Wednesday, October 24, 2018

World Series Game 1: Los Angeles Dodgers at Red Sox (October 23, 2018)

Based on all of the team's left in Major League Baseball's final four, we ended up with the sexiest and most appealing of all possible matchups. No offense to the Brewers or Astros, but there's just something special about a Boston vs. LA pairing. Whether it's because it evokes memories of all of the famed Celtics/Lakers clashes in the NBA Finals, the cultural and geographical differences between East Coast and West Coast, or simply because the red and blue uniforms have been unchanged for decades (and look so damn good), this World Series is a marquee matchup. Since the Red Sox dispatched the Astros in five games in the ALCS, we had to sit and wait three days to see who their opponent would be and a further two days for the World Series to begin. With a pitching matchup of Chris Sale versus Clayton Kershaw, you couldn't ask for a better start to the series. Strangely for a team that led the league in wins, dispatched two 100-win teams in the Yankees and Astros in nine games total, and won sixteen more than their World Series opponent, most of the national media chose the Dodgers to win this series. As I always say, though, that's why they play the games. With another too-late-for-an-East-Coast-game start time, I settled onto my couch with my wife and kids to watch the game and prepared for another late night of October baseball.

(As a side note, both the 2004 and 2013 World Series started on October 23, which is a strange coincidence. Also, for game one of the 2004 series my wife (who was pregnant with our oldest) and I watched it on the big screen at a movie theater in Maine; now we're watching it at home with our four children. It was a blast in '04 and something we still talk about, but looking at where we are now I can't believe it was fourteen year ago...time flies!)

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You couldn't have asked for a better pitching matchup to lead off the series than Chris Sale against Clayton Kershaw. Both lefties are among the best in their generation, but both also have spotty postseason records. Sale was winless in October prior to this year and Kershaw is the National League's version of David Price. Still, on a cold and damp night at Fenway Park it seemed as though this game might be decided on the pitching and not the hitting...unfortunately the expected pitcher's duel never materialized. The Sox struck early yet again this postseason when Mookie Betts singled, stole second, and scored on Andrew Benintendi's single in the bottom of the first. JD Martinez then singled to drive in Benintendi.  They looked poised to do more damage but the inning fizzled out and heading into the second, it was 2-0 Sox. Sale didn't look sharp from the get-go and the first signs of this were in the second when, after getting Matt Kemp in an 0-2 hole, he couldn't put him away. Kemp fouling off pitches until he finally tagged one over the Green Monster to cut the lead in half. Amazingly, that would be the only extra base hit the Dodgers got in the entire game. In the third, the hated Manny Machado singled to drive in Justin Turner and tied the game at two runs apiece. The Sox answered in the bottom of the inning when JD crushed a ball to center field to push Steve Pearce across and reclaim the lead. There was a bit of a scary moment as JD was rounding second; his foot slipped on the wet base and when he planted his other foot, he rolled his ankle. He seemed alright and he played the rest of the game, but that's not something you ever like to see. Machado struck again in the fifth when his ground out to second base drove Brian Dozier in to tie the game again. Prior to that play, Matt Barnes (who had entered after Sale walked the first batter of the inning...more on that later) had runners on first and second with no outs. A passed ball allowed the Dodgers runners to advance to second and third which ended up hurting because instead of Machado's grounder leading to an inning-ending double play, it scored a run and prolonged the inning. As they did all night though, Boston responded immediately. They had the bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the fifth and JD coming up to bat. It seemed as though they were about the blow the game wide open, but he struck out and was followed by Xander Bogaerts who grounded out to Machado at shortstop. Luckily, Xander hustled down the line and beat the throw at first to avoid the inning ending double play which allowed Mookie to score from first. Rafael Devers was up next and singled to right field to drive Benintendi in and give the Sox a bit of breathing room with a 5-3 lead. Machado (are you as sick of reading his name as I am of writing it?) hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh to bring Max Muncy home and shave Boston's lead to 5-4, but (repeat after me) the Sox answered in the bottom half of the inning with some much needed insurance. With two on and two outs, Alex Cora pinch hit for Devers with Eduardo Nunez. It was a move that baffled me and I was about to criticize Cora for it when Nunez crushed a pitch onto the Monster for a huge three run homer and an 8-4 lead. Two things here: first, I'm never questioning Cora again. I said that after the ALCS, but the Nunez move confused me enough given the way Devers has been swinging the bat that I was about to do it. Never again. Second, I have no idea how Nunez hit that homer. That pitch was down and in and barely above his shoe tops. Somehow he got the barrel of the bat on it and lifted it enough that it made it out. I immediately thought it would be a wall ball double (which still would've been nice) but he had enough underneath it to just barely make it over the top of the wall. This is Alex Cora's world and we're all just living in it. He's only a year into his tenure but he's been elevated to Bill Belichick status as far as I'm concerned: in Cora we trust. The Dodgers never recovered from Nunez' blast. Nathan Eovaldi shut them down in the eighth and we finally saw vintage Craig Kimbrel in the ninth when he closed out the game with a 1-2-3 inning (one fly out, two Ks). One win down, three to go.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

Back to Sale; no he didn't look sharp and his command was eluding him all night. He slogged through 4+ innings (he pitched to a batter in the fifth) to the tune of 91 pitches (only 54 of which were strikes)  and while he struck out seven and only walked two, he gave up three earned runs on five hits. With that being said, home plate umpire Tim Timmons had a VERY tight strike zone on both teams, but appeared to squeeze Sale more than once (including in his final walk of the game). There were pitches Kershaw was getting called strikes where Sale was getting balls in literally the exact same location. It was enough that Sandy Leon, Alex Cora, and Sale barked at him; even the announcers commented on it. That wasn't the reason Sale had a poor outing, but it definitely contributed to his high pitch count. Kershaw wasn't much better, also lasting only four innings and surrendering five earned runs on seven hits to go with three walks and five strikeouts. The Red Sox bullpen again did an excellent job in keeping the game close so that the hitters could do their damage and the offense certainly obliged. They outhit LA 11-8 and had numerous extra base hits while the Dodgers only had one. Just about everyone contributed (Sandy Leon even had two hits!) but the heavy lifting was done by Benintendi (4-5, three runs scored, one RBI) and JD (2-3, a run scored, two RBI, and a walk). Throughout the game Boston showed how relentless their lineup is and how they can beat you in so many different ways. They'll look to continue that in game two on Wednesday night as David Price faces off against Hyun-Jin Ryu. I and all of Red Sox Nation will be hoping that Price can deliver another performance like he did in the ALCS clincher and help the team take a 2-0 lead on the road for this weekend's games. There's still a long way to go and this Dodgers team is no pushover, but the Red Sox have been taking it one game at a time all postseason and it's been so fun to watch (fun is an understatement). There's nothing like the World Series, especially when your favorite team is in it and especially when that team is as talented and joyous to watch as the 2018 Red Sox.

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