BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox are three wins away from their fourth World Series championship in the last 15 years. The Red Sox, thanks to some timely hitting and one monster home run, beat the Dodgers in Game 1 of the Fall Classic on Tuesday night. They lead the best-of-seven series 1-0.
A 108-win ballclub does not need much help, but, Tuesday night, the Red Sox got it anyway. The Dodgers made several miscues throughout the game and Boston capitalized on every single one. It is uncanny how pretty much everything is breaking the Red Sox’s way this postseason. Let’s break down the long list of Dodgers mistakes and how the BoSox took advantage.
First inning: Freese misses pop-up
The very first Red Sox batter to step to the plate in Game 1. Mookie Betts lifted a pop-up into foul territory behind home plate and David Freese just missed it. He overran the ball and it fell in foul, extending the at-bat. Three pitches later, Betts ripped a leadoff single to center field and nearly took off Clayton Kershaw’s head in the process. The Red Sox were in business.
“From the first at-bat we put pressure on them,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said following Game 1. “That’s what we do.”
First inning: Puig misses the cutoff man
One pitch after the single, Betts stole second base and could’ve advanced to third had he realized Austin Barnes’ throw sailed into center field. One pitch after that, Andrew Benintendi pulled a ball to right field for a single and a 1-0 Red Sox lead. Betts is crazy fast and he seemed to be rounding third before the ball reached Yasiel Puig in right field. Puig threw home anyway.
The throw to the plate was well late and Benintendi was able to scamper to second base. Heads up baserunning, that was. Puig has a strong arm — a crazy strong arm — but with Betts running and no outs in the first inning, he has to hit the cutoff man and keep the runner at first. Instead, Benintendi wisely took second, and he scored on a J.D. Martinez single two batters later. Puig’s throw home contributed to a second run later in that first inning.
“Scratching out the first run is huge,” Chris Sale said following Game 1. “It’s a momentum builder and confidence booster.”
Third inning: Dozier’s slow turn extends inning
Kershaw never really settled down in Game 1. He had traffic on bases all night. Benintendi stroked a one-out single in the third inning and Steve Pearce, the next batter, hit a potential 6-4-3 double play ball to Manny Machado at short. Machado made a nice scoop and throw to second, but Brian Dozier’s turn was slow, and Pearce beat it out. He was initially called out before replay overturned the call.
Pearce beating out the double play kept the inning alive and set up Martinez up for the long go-ahead double. This is a home run in most ballparks:
Kershaw got the inning-ending double play ball from Pearce. It was hardly routine, but Machado made a nice play to start it and that was the most difficult part. Dozier didn’t get the ball out of his glove cleanly and that gave Pearce enough time to beat it out. Martinez then took advantage and drove that run home.
“Look at the double plays, the quote-unquote tailor-made double plays,” said Sale. “We’re busting it down the line and we edged it out, and we ended up getting some RBI out of it. That’s a game-changer.”
Fifth inning: Freese bats with two on
Of all the mistakes made by the Dodgers in Game 1, this is the one I understand the least. Physical mistakes happen. Freese missing a popup and Dozier’s turning a double play slowly? Eh, it stinks, but it happens. Credit the Red Sox for turning those extra outs into runs.
The mental mistakes are more damning. Puig missing the cutoff man? That’s a mental mistake. Also, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts letting Freese face a right-handed pitcher with two on and no outs in the fifth inning? That’s a mental mistake by the manager. Sale had been pulled in favor of Matt Barnes, and:
- Freese vs. RHP: .265/.337/.397 (92 OPS+)
- Freese vs. LHP: .305/.381/.467 (122 OPS+)
Televisions cameras caught Max Muncy, the man who hit .266/.401/.601 (172 OPS+) against right-handed pitchers during the regular season, with a bat and a helmet on in the dugout. He did not pinch-hit. Freese stayed in to face Barnes and struck out. The Dodgers did score one run that inning, but only one. (Muncy pinch-hit later in the game and sent a single to center.)
Who knows what happens if Muncy pinch-hits? Maybe he hits into a double play and the Dodgers don’t score that inning. Or maybe he doubles off the wall and drives in two runs. We’ll never know. Clearly, based on the numbers, Muncy was the better option there, and he instead remained on the bench. The Red Sox took the gift out after the first two runners reached base for the 3-4-5 hitters. That inning could’ve been much worse.
“At that point you have three guys on the bench and you’ve got to figure out who (to use),” said Roberts. “In the fifth inning, deplete your entire bench? I like David’s at-bats. And you look at Barnes, he’s sort of neutral (against lefties and righties) … In the fifth inning you start hitting for guys, you’re going to have nobody left in the game. With the neutral guy and how David is swinging the bat, I still like him against Barnes.”
Seventh inning: Wood replaces Baez
You need surprise out of nowhere contributions to win the World Series (Brock Holt hitting the first cycle in postseason history, anyone?) and the Red Sox got one of those surprise contributions in the seventh inning.
Benintendi blooped a ground-rule double to left — Joc Pederson failing to catch this ball was another Dodgers miscue the Red Sox turned into runs — to start that seventh inning, then Roberts went to the slow-working by very effective Pedro Baez. Strikeout, intentional walk, strikeout put two on with two outs. At this point, Roberts had two options:
- Baez vs. Rafael Devers (.246/.291/.380 vs. RHP)
- Alex Wood vs. Eduardo Nunez (.260/.297/.344 vs. LHP)
Neither Devers nor Nunez hit pitchers of the opposite hand hard this season. The numbers says Wood vs. Nunez is probably the preferable matchup, but sometimes a manager has took at what’s in front of him, and Baez just blew away Mitch Moreland and Xander Bogaerts. He was feeling it. Wood allowed 14 homers during the regular season, all to right-handed batters. He was brought in to face the right-handed hitting Nunez. This happened:
“We talked about it with Pete throwing the ball well there,” Roberts said. “But Devers is really good against the right-hander, and to get a guy off the bench and Nunez, I really liked Alex in that spot. I did. Whether they were going to hit Devers with a lead or go to the bench and go with Nunez, I still liked Alex in that spot.”
Credit to Nunez there. He went down and golfed a curveball over the Green Monster. That was not a bad pitch. It wasn’t like Wood hung a breaking ball out over the plate. That’s a pitch that, in a perfect world, the batter takes for a ball. Nunez hit it out of the park for a three-run home run.
Given the way Baez was throwing, I thought leaving him in to face Devers was the way to go. Wood has been home run prone against righties and Baez is the much better bet to miss bats, both in the context of Game 1 and in the season overall. The more effective reliever was removed and it took Nunez all of two pitches to punish the Dodgers for that mistake, which is something they did all night.
“I don’t know if we’re dictating their moves, but we feel that we’ve got a few guys that can (match up),” Cora added. “I know they’re going to do that. They trust their bullpen and their matchups, but we trust our guys too.”
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