Dodgers' Bullpen Collapses, Giving Red Sox 1-0 World Series Lead
Updated at 11:07 p.m. ET
Red Sox left-fielder Andrew Benintendi went 4-5 and scored three runs, designated hitter J.D. Martinez was 2-3 with two runs batted in and ace starting pitcher Chris Sale struck out seven batters despite being pulled from the game early.
But the dagger as Boston won Game 1 of the World Series was pinch-hitter Eduardo Núñez's three-run homer over the Green Monster in the seventh inning, putting the game well out of the Dodgers' reach at 8-4.
Infielder Manny Machado had three runs batted in, infielder Justin Turner went 3-4 and outfielder Matt Kemp hit a solo home run for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers' dominant starter, Clayton Kershaw, also got pulled after just four innings, and bullpen struggles doomed Los Angeles.
Kershaw had his share of issues as well, as the Red Sox jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead — an ugly spot against the Red Sox, ESPN noted in a tweet.
The Red Sox found gap after gap in the vaunted Los Angeles defense in the first inning, with designated hitter J.D. Martinez (2-2 with two RBI) and outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi all firing sharp hits into the outfield. It took a pop-out and Martinez getting caught stealing for Kershaw to escape further damage.
Fox noted during the broadcast that Kershaw had started only one game in sub-50-degree weather prior to Game 1.
Sale appeared to fatigue as the early innings wore on, giving up two runs himself, and he was pulled after walking infielder Brian Dozier on his 91st pitch.
Matt Kemp pulled the Dodgers to within one in the second inning, cracking a Sale pitch into the left-field bleachers. It helps that Kemp is the best in the league at hitting one of Sale's two main pitches.
ESPN noted during the game that Sale had given up 11 homers to righties versus zero to left-handed batters, which led Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to start the first all-right-handed lineup in World Series history.
Dodgers infielders Justin Turner, David Freese and Manny Machado got hits into the outfield off Sale in the third inning and Turner evened the score 2-2. But a booming two-out off the center field wall by Martinez put the Red Sox up again.
Kershaw and Sale had stronger results in the fourth, getting two strikeouts each, but both bullpens struggled in the fifth after the starters were pulled. Dodgers relief pitcher Ryan Madson loaded the bases, and hits by shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers — continuing an impressive postseason — gave the Red Sox their fourth and fifth runs.
The Dodgers managed to get back within one run in the seventh inning, but when the Red Sox came up, Benintendi bounced a fly ball fair and into the seats, putting him on second.
Multiple pitching changes couldn't end the inning, and a double switch eventually set up Núñez versus relief pitcher Alex Wood. Núñez blasted Wood's second pitch into the stands, and the Red Sox bullpen, aided by starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, sealed the game.
Between them, the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers franchises have been to the World Series 33 times, so it may beggar belief that before this year, they'd met in the Series only once — and that was 102 years ago.
Back then, the Boston Red Sox with pre-Yankees-trade pitcher Babe Ruth beat the then-Brooklyn Robins 4 games to 1, and ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza tells All Things Considered that they are favored to repeat that distant history.
"This team is arguably one of the best regular-season teams we have ever seen," Mendoza says of Boston, which led the league with 108 regular-season wins. A statistical analysis by the analytics website FanGraphs puts a lot of the credit in the hands of the Red Sox's historically great outfield.
Game 1, which starts at 8:09 p.m. ET, will be broadcast on Fox.
To win this battle of the highest and third-highest payrolls in baseball, Boston will have to beat the Dodgers, who are returning to the World Series after a seven-game loss last season to the Houston Astros.
Mendoza says the Dodgers didn't get their hearts broken in that season; they had it "torn out." They struggled with injuries this season, at one point falling 10 games below .500, but a blockbuster trade for Baltimore Orioles star infielder Manny Machado helped them get back to the title series.
Los Angeles will try to stifle the Red Sox offense with a defense that is among the most modern in baseball, frequently shifting players to adjust for where batters tend to hit the ball and treating fielders as interchangeable. The Dodgers shifted players from one on-field position to another more than any other team in major league history, The Ringer reports.
Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw told NPR's Tom Goldman that he and his teammates were very fortunate to be on a team that had made the playoffs six years in a row. "But we're still missing that ring."
Mendoza thinks that can change this year, saying the Red Sox's strong season puts all the pressure on them. "OK, well then, win it all," she says. "No one cares about 'Hey, you won 108 games, yay!' "
The Dodgers, pursuing their first title in 30 years, have an advantage in their hunger after last season's loss, she adds: "One word, and it's 'redemption.' "
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.