- In a game that had all the makings of a pitchers' duel, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale combined to give up eight runs and neither ace lasted more than four innings. The Red Sox' offense came alive in the late innings to beat the Dodgers comfortably.
After a slog of a Game 1—three hours and 52 minutes, officially, but it felt longer—Boston has an 8-4 win over the Dodgers to its credit and a 1-0 World Series lead. Three thoughts off the Fall Classic opener:
Fits and Starts
These playoffs have been characterized by short starts throughout—only seven of the 28 games played before the World Series featured a start longer than six innings—but it was nonetheless jarring to see neither Clayton Kershaw nor Chris Sale, with 14 all-star appearances between them, record an out in the fifth. In Sale’s case, he had racked up a high pitch count (91) by the time he finished walking Brian Dozier to lead off the inning. Sale had been running deep counts all night, in part because he was nibbling around the corners of the plate, and in part because plate umpire Tim Timmons was squeezing him. While Dozier did come around to score, reliever Matt Barnes navigated the inning without further damage.
Kershaw, meanwhile, was pulled for Ryan Madson in the bottom of the inning after walking Mookie Betts and allowing a single to Andrew Benintendi. (Madson would allow both inherited runners to score.) Kershaw wasn’t able to keep Boston’s hitters off balance; he registered only eight swinging strikes and surrendered four of the night’s five hardest-hit balls. While the box score will show Kershaw had another bad postseason outing—seven hits, three walks, and five runs in four innings—his defense did him no favors.
In the first inning alone, David Freese whiffed on a Betts popup (he scored), and Yasiel Puig airmailed the cutoff man on a Benintendi RBI single, allowing him to reach second (he scored too). Dozier struggled turning a double play in that fateful fifth, while earlier in the evening Chris Taylor had been lucky to get away with a misplay in left because Benintendi didn’t hustle out of the box. In the seventh, long after Kershaw had left, Joc Pederson’s inability to reach a lazy Benintendi fly resulted in a double for the Red Sox outfielder. There were more mistakes I don’t have time to list. The Dodgers have an admirable commitment to versatility, but when it leads to weak defense at a quirky park like Fenway, it doesn’t seem quite so strategic.
Cora the Magician
I mentioned that Kershaw allowed four of the five hardest-hit balls all night. The other one, which was the second most-smoked, was hit in the seventh, over the Green Monster, by … Eduardo Núñez? His three-run pinch-hit dinger against Alex Wood salted the game away for the Sox. Eduardo Núñez is not supposed to be able to do such things. He had an adjusted OPS+ of 81 in 2018. (OK, he did somehow manage to hit two three-run homers in the regular season.) And some platoon player he was—he hit worse against lefties (.263) than he did against righties (.286). No matter. Every button Alex Cora pushes leads to paydirt. That said, summoning Wood didn’t seem to make much sense even before the home run: Pedro Baez had whiffed the two batters he was allowed to face, and Rafael Devers, whom Wood was brought in to face, has no pronounced platoon split.
The Middle Holds
The biggest playoff surprise for Boston has to be the performance of their relievers. All season, Boston’s bullpen had been good but not great, with Craig Kimbrel looking relatively human and the various bridges to him less reliable than Boston would like. All postseason, though, the Red Sox’ no-name relief corps has handled its business well. Matt Barnes has allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings; Joe Kelly has allowed only one baserunner in 6 1/3 innings. Nathan Eovaldi, the swingman, has been dominant, too. And when ALCS standout Ryan Brasier struggled in the seventh, in came Eduardo Rodriguez to retire Cody Bellinger. Even Kimbrel, who has been responsible for heart palpitations from Nashua to Norwalk, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth. Boston surely wishes its starters were living up to expectations, but when the bullpen looks this good it’s easy not to care.