The Dodgers showed plenty of fight in Game 1 of the World Series. They battled back from behind multiple times and were in the game late. It was a series of small mishaps that led to the undoing of their hopes Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
It didn’t take much to give the Red Sox extra opportunities but when Boston was given the slightest bit, they busted down the door to seize the lead in the series.
Two pitches into Clayton Kershaw’s night, his defense let him down. Mookie Betts popped up into foul territory down the first base line and David Freese looked like he would make the catch. But the ball dropped about four feet behind Freese as he overran it.
Yasiel Puig was playing deep and to pull for the right-handed hitting Betts, while Brian Dozier was playing up the middle. It would’ve been a difficult ask for either of them to make the play.
Sure enough, Betts would bang a base hit into center just three pitches later to get the Red Sox started on offense. After Betts stole second on the first pitch, Andrew Benintendi singled on the ground into right field. Enter mistake number two.
Puig comes up throwing home and it sails past everybody straight to Austin Barnes. The problem is that Betts was going to score no matter how good the throw was. That costly mental error allowed Benintendi to take second base, where he would stay until J.D Martinez drove him home two batters later on a single.
There is no second run on this play if the Puig throw doesn't happen.
“It was just for me the defense, uncharacteristic tonight from our club,” said manager Dave Roberts to the media after the loss. “And I don’t think the pitching line is reflective of the way the guys threw. To beat a club like that, you’ve got to play a cleaner game defensively.”
The Red Sox avoided two big double plays that prolonged innings and put runs on the scoreboard. Steve Pearce barely legged it out to beat the throw by a half-second in the third, bringing Martinez to the plate. Martinez crushed a ball to dead center to bring Pearce in from first.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, Ryan Madson attempted to wiggle out of jam against the heart of the Red Sox lineup. The right-hander was successful in striking out Martinez, but the Dodgers couldn’t turn the double play by getting Xander Bogaerts at first.
Both double plays were extremely close and could’ve prevented a run.
In spots the team has regularly pinch hit for Freese or Kemp, they refused on Tuesday. Freese struck out against right-hander Matt Barnes with two aboard and no outs in the fifth, while Kemp’s only good at-bat came in the second inning when he hit a solo homer. The platoon advantage that worked out more times than not in the NLCS went away in these situations.
“Well, at that point you have three guys on the bench and you’ve got to figure out who -- in the fifth inning to deplete your entire bench,” Roberts said. “I like David’s at-bats. And you look at (Matt) Barnes, he’s sort of neutral. He’s got a good fastball. He’s got a cutter that gets lefties out.
“So I just felt that first and second base, you’ve got Machado behind him and you have a chance to hit for the next guy after that. But in the fifth inning you start to hitting for guys, you’re going to have nobody left in the game.”
And then there was the seventh inning when the game unraveled for the Dodgers. Benintendi hit a pop fly to short left field to start the frame. Pederson got to the spot but had the ball hit his glove and go in the stands for a ground-rule double.
This is where Dodger manager Dave Roberts made the decision to bring Pedro Baez in from the bullpen. Baez was filthy in striking out Mitch Moreland and Bogaerts but would be lifted for Alex Wood when Rafael Devers walked to the plate with runners on first and second with two outs.
Pedro Baez has not allowed a hit to a left-handed batter since July 26.— Paul Hembekides (@PaulHembo) October 24, 2018
Lefties are 0-31 (with 11 strikeouts) against him since then.
Red Sox skipper Alex Cora countered with Eduardo Nunez off the bench as a right-handed batter to face the lefty Wood. The decision backfired for the Dodgers two pitches in when Núñez slugged a three-run homer to left.
“We talked about it with Petey throwing the ball well right there,” Roberts said as he explained the thinking behind removing Baez. “But Devers is really good against the right-hander, and to get a guy off the bench and Nuñez, 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 Nuñez, I still liked Alex in that spot.”
This was one case where the matchup on paper outweighs the decision that looks like Baez may be the correct call. It looks like second-guessing now but Wood hasn’t exactly been lights out to prove he would’ve been better suited to get that final out.
Baez has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the last couple months. The big righty deserved the chance to get Devers.
The good thing is that Tuesday only counted for one loss and the Dodgers can get a win on Wednesday to even the series before heading to Los Angeles. But the big takeaway is that the Dodgers can’t afford to give a team like the Red Sox any extra outs to work with.
The margin for error is so small.