One down, three to go. In what was supposed to be a battle of the aces, it was the offenses that stole the show with the bullpens and managers making the differences. Dave Roberts didn’t have a bad game, but Alex Cora pulled all the right strings (again) and the Red Sox were able to come through with the victory. Despite the lackluster performance from Chris Sale — and, to be fair to both Sale and Clayton Kershaw the strike zone was minuscule for most of this game — the Red Sox pulled out a victory. Andrew Benintendi led the charge with four hits, but really it was a group effort and another example of this team’s resiliency, as every time the Dodgers got some whiff of momentum, the Red Sox came right back and ripped it away. That’s how you start a World Series.
The storyline heading into this first game of the World Series was a classic battle of the aces, with Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale facing off in a matchup between two of the best pitchers of this generation. Neither side could really know what to expect, though. Kershaw has a history of disappointment in the postseason, and while the narrative has been overstated he still hasn’t been Clayton Kershaw in October. Sale, meanwhile, has also not been himself in his brief postseason history. On top of that, he hasn’t been himself in the second half of this season, and most recently spent some time in the hospital with stomach issues. Not great!
So, because of that, it was important for both sides to see good things out of their starters early on. Both pitchers, of course, have the potential to settle in at any point, but a quick start would lead to some easier breathing. For Sale, the first was fine if not perfect. There were some early signs that his command wasn’t there right away, but overall there wasn’t a ton to complain about as he allowed just a single in that inning and racked up a pair of strikeouts. It did take 21 pitches to do all of that, though.
For Kershaw, the first wasn’t as smooth and his defense made things much worse. Mookie Betts led off for Boston as he always does, and it looked like he would pop out to start the inning. Instead, David Freese lost track of the ball and allowed it to fall in foul territory, giving the likely AL MVP a second life. Betts took advantage with a base hit. On the next pitch he stole second base — winning a free taco for everyone in America — and then Andrew Benintendi knocked him in on a base hit into right field. To make matters worse for L.A., Yasiel Puig made an ill-advised throw to the plate despite having no chance at Betts, which allowed Benintendi to get to second. J.D. Martinez took advantage of that mistake with an RBI single of his own, and just like that it was a 2-0 lead for Boston with just one out. The Red Sox let Kershaw off the hook after that, though, with Martinez getting picked off and Xander Bogaerts popping one up to end the inning.
Sale was looking for similar results in the second with more efficiency, but he wasn’t going to get it. After starting things off with his third strikeout of the night, Matt Kemp came up. The Red Sox ace got to two strikes but couldn’t find his putaway pitch. After a long and impressive at bat from the Dodgers righty, Sale left a fastball over the plate and Kemp put it into the second row of the Monster Seats. Just like that, the lead was halved. L.A. got one more runner on with a walk, but that was it.
The Red Sox threatened again in the second when Rafael Devers led off with a walk and Sandy León — yes, you read that correctly — singled to put runners on the corners with one out. Jackie Bradley Jr. had the chance for a big hit, and he hit one well, but it was on the ground up the middle. Somehow, it made it throw Kershaw’s legs (I’ve seen the replay ten times and still don’t understand) and the Dodgers shift ate it up for an inning-ending double play.
That would bring us into the third, which was Sale’s worst showing of the night that was made even worse by some bad luck. After getting a quick first out, Sale couldn’t consistently hit the zone and it hurt. He didn’t walk anyone, but he never got a commanding 0-2 count, and when he did get two strikes he couldn’t finish batters off. As a result, the Dodgers ended up with three straight singles — they weren’t particularly hard hit, but Sale needs to get strikeouts — to get one more run and tie the game. It’s also worth noting that Benintendi made two questionable plays here. On one, he stopped short on a line drive, opting for a deke instead of going for a potential catch. On the other, he made a strange decision not to attempt to throw the runner out at the plate on the run. I can only assume the latter was because he couldn’t grip the ball, because it makes no sense otherwise. Fortunately, Sale settled down after that and got a strikeout and a ground out to end the inning and not allow L.A. to take a lead.
In the bottom of the third, the Red Sox offense did what it’s done so often all year long: Answer right back. They had the top of the order coming up, and Benintendi started the rally with a one-out bloop single. It actually looked like he should have made it into second on a misplay in the outfield, but it wouldn’t matter. After Steve Pearce hit into a fielder’s choice (that was originally called an inning-ending double play before being overturned), Martinez smoked one. The slugger ripped it off the wall in center field, knocking in Pearce on an RBI double and giving Boston the 3-2 lead after three.
After both pitchers came through with their first 1-2-3 innings in the fourth, Sale was brought out for the fifth with the understanding that he’d have a short leash. Sure enough, he walked Brian Dozier to lead off the inning and that was his night. Matt Barnes came in to try and hold the one-run lead, and he didn’t succeed. Justin Turner put a second runner on with a base hit, and after a strikeout both runners advanced a base on a wild pitch. For whatever it may be worth, it seemed to me that León could have and should have done a better job of getting his body in front of the ball and keeping it closer to prevent the runners advancing. Either way, it would prove costly because Manny Machado was up next. He grounded out, but the infield was back and it was enough to tie the game.
Remember when I said the Red Sox have been so good at answering back, though? They did it again with almost an identical inning as the top half. Kershaw also came back out to start, and he also started off with a walk and then Benintendi hit a single to put two on with nobody out. Ryan Madson then came on in relief, and a wild pitch moved both runners up a base. From there, the bases loaded up on a walk, and Martinez had a chance for a big blow. Instead, he struck out in a shocking at bat. The symmetry continued after that when Xander Bogaerts knocked one in on a ground out, and then a Rafael Devers single added a bit of insurance. After five, the Red Sox had a 5-3 lead.
The sixth belonged to Joe Kelly, and he had the most impressive outing for any Red Sox pitcher to that point. He set down the Dodgers in order in that inning without any stress at all.
With the score still the same in the seventh, Ryan Brasier got the call. He got the first batter out, but then Max Muncy and Justin Turner came through with back-to-back singles to put the tying run on first base with Yasmani Grandal coming to the plate. The catcher drew a walk to load the bases, and that brought Machado to the plate. The former Orioles got one run in on a fly ball out to center field, and that was it for Brasier. Eduardo Rodriguez came on to try and get NLCS MVP Cody Bellinger with two on and two out in a one-run game, he got a weak pop out to center field to end the inning and keep the lead at one.
Guess what the Red Sox did in the bottom half of the inning, though? They answered right back. Benintendi started it off again, this time with a lucky ground-rule double to left field that certainly should have been caught. It looked like Boston was going to squander the opportunity, getting down to two outs with two on and Alex Wood came on to face Rafael Devers. To counter, Alex Cora called upon Eduardo Núñez to pinch hit. I certainly second-guessed the move, but I’m officially done second-guessing Cora. Núñez hit a three-run home run, giving the Red Sox a four-run lead in an improbable and impressive big hit. Cora is on a heater right now.
So, now it was just up to the relievers holding on to the lead. Nathan Eovaldi came up first, and he got a 1-2-3 inning. That brought Craig Kimbrel on for the ninth, and he looked like Craig Kimbrel. The closer tossed a 1-2-3 inning, and that was that.
That’s a 1-0 World Series lead for those keeping track at home. The Red Sox will now have a chance to hold home field for the first time this postseason with a win in Game Two. That will take place Wednesday night with David Price going up against Hyun-Jin Ryu. First pitch is at 8:09 PM ET.