What started as a marquee pitching match-up in Game 1 of the World Series quickly evolved into a contest where all the little things mattered.
The Boston Red Sox held serve at home with an 8-4 win, and more than their star power on the mound or at the plate, it was their timely execution – and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ failure to do the same – that decided the opener.
Ultimately, neither Chris Sale nor Clayton Kershaw factored into the result, despite it being the first meeting of seven-time All-Stars in a World Series opener. The two aces lasted just four innings on a night where both were at less than their best, with Kershaw surrendering five runs and Sale allowing three.
The bullpen played a larger role than expected and while the Red Sox relievers were nearly flawless in shutting down the Dodgers’ lineup over five innings, Los Angeles’ arms couldn’t contain the damage.
But other than the knockout blow delivered by Eduardo Nunez on his pinch-hit three-run home run in the seventh inning, much of that damage could have been avoided for the Dodgers.
They failed to turn two potential inning-ending double plays – on Steve Pearce in the third and on Xander Bogaerts in the fifth – that led to three runs.
Los Angeles also couldn’t grab hold of a couple fly balls that ended up costing them runs. The first came when Mookie Betts, in his lead-off at-bat, popped one up in foul territory, which first baseman David Freese couldn’t corral. Four pitches later, Betts singled before stealing second base and scoring on Andrew Benintendi’s hit.
In the seventh, Benintendi was gifted a double when left fielder Joc Pederson and third baseman Justin Turner couldn’t converge on a shallow fly ball. Four batters later, Nunez cleared the Green Monster to give Boston a four-run cushion.
The Nunez bomb was another example of the Red Sox being rewarded for paying attention to the details.
When Dodgers manager Dave Roberts replaced right-handed pitcher Pedro Baez with lefty Alex Wood to face the left-handed hitting Rafael Devers, Boston manager Alex Cora countered by pinch-hitting Nunez. The decision was far from a slam dunk as Nunez was hitting just .188 with one extra-base hit in the postseason, while Devers’ bat had been key.
But as he had been doing all playoffs, Cora pushed the right button once again and the Red Sox claimed a relatively comfortable win to take another step towards a title.
Boston are a deep, talented squad with players who can change the game on any given night – Benintendi’s four-hit performance was more evidence of that.
The reason they were the best team in baseball this season, however, extends beyond the richness of their roster. Whether it’s been two-out hitting, base-running or managerial decisions, the Red Sox have thrived all-around.
The Dodgers will have to meet that standard – or hope Boston suddenly start beating themselves – if they want to make this a competitive series, beginning with Game 2 on Wednesday.