Elise Amendola/Associated Press
BOSTON — How about we just stop right here, as even a freaking pinch hitter for the Boston Red Sox unleashed a screaming line drive that jackhammered its way through the cold, wet night air and over the Green Monster.
If it wasn’t before, it should be monster-ishly clear now in the aftermath of Eduardo Nunez’s three-run blast in the seventh inning to crack wide-open Boston’s 8-4 Game 1 World Series win over the Los Angeles Dodgers here Tuesday night that these Red Sox are setting up as a team for the ages.
This lineup is relentless in all the right ways. It boasts power, contains contact hitters and it can, as they love to say in Beantown, #DoDamage throughout, from Nos. 1 through 9, from leadoff hitter Mookie Betts to the very end of manager Alex Cora’s bench.
This team, the one that started 17-2, won a franchise-record 108 games, blitzed the New York Yankees in an American League Division Series and crushed the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series…how exactly are the Dodgers supposed to handle it?
Other than not scoring four or five runs in a two-run first inning in which three of the first four Red Sox to face Kershaw cracked singles off him, “it was about as perfect as you can draw it up,” Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes said. “[Nunez’s] ability to come off the bench and hit a three-run homer is incredible. It was huge.”
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
The last two times out now, the Red Sox have pelted Astros ace Justin Verlander and bloodied Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. This is what they do.
“We have a great group of guys, and we don’t fear anybody,” Betts said. “They put their pants on the same way we do.”
Welcome to Fenway Park, Mr. Kershaw. Check your pockets before they’re picked.
It was his first-ever appearance in this storied museum. His first-ever matchup with the Red Sox. And one he will not soon forget. The Sox pantsed him immediately, scoring those two runs in the first, another in the third, and then, after manager Dave Roberts hooked Kershaw following a walk and a single to start the fifth, Ryan Madson allowed both of those inherited runners to score.
“I don’t think he had the fastball command that he typically has,” Roberts said. “He was missing up in the zone. I don’t think his slider had the depth that we’re used to seeing.
“And those guys, to their credit, they put some good at-bats on him. And we didn’t play the defense we typically do.”
Absolutely true. And that made the Dodgers’ climb in this World Series opener even steeper.
What helped set up Boston’s first inning was first baseman David Freese’s failure to catch Betts’ pop foul on the muddy warning track behind first base. Right fielder Yasiel Puig rifled a throw home instead of hitting the cutoff man, which allowed Andrew Benintendi to take second—and score two batters later. On the mound, Kershaw looked perplexed. Then, in the fifth, Madson’s wild pitch bounced past catcher Austin Barnes to help set up two more runs.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
By that fifth inning, seven of the nine Red Sox hitters had reached base. Even light-hitting catcher Sandy Leon finished with two knocks. No wonder there was a gorgeous rainbow over Fenway Park when the between late-afternoon rain showers.
And when the merry-go-round is spinning like that, if you’re playing defense, you simply cannot give up extra outs.
Against this particular Boston club, it’s a death sentence.
“It was huge,” Betts said of scoring twice in the first inning. “From the beginning, we played aggressively and let them know that we’re not going to ease into it.
“Right off the bat, go 100 miles an hour.”
Did they ever. When the season started, when the playoffs started and now in the World Series. Ace starter Chris Sale didn’t last any longer than Kershaw—he, too, failed to get an out in the fifth inning. But the Boston lineup (mostly) and the Dodgers’ sloppiness (minimally) gave Sale more slack than Kershaw.
It’s been this way all season. One enormous difference between these two clubs: The Red Sox can beat you in so many ways because they can hit for power and average. The Sox ranked 26th in the majors in strikeouts this season; only Pittsburgh, Seattle, Houston and Cleveland fanned fewer times. The Dodgers, whose offense has been all or nothing much of the time, ranked eighth in the majors in whiffs.
The Dodgers hit the second-most home runs in the majors—a franchise-record 235, which led the National League—while Boston ranked ninth. But the Dodgers also ranked 29th in batting average with runners in scoring position—their .199 tied the lowly Baltimore Orioles.
Part of that relates to the inordinately high number of strikeouts contained in the Los Angeles lineup—and the Dodgers whiffed 12 times in Game 1 (the Red Sox checked in with 12, too). But while the Dodgers scored 24 runs this postseason via the homer and 22 runs when they didn’t put the ball out of the park, Boston keeps coming at you in various ways.
“Overall, we’re pretty relentless,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said during a conversation before Game 5 of the ALCS in Houston the other day. “We battle. And we can win in different ways.
“It’s nice we hit more home runs this year than we did in the past. But we’re athletic, we use the whole field, we score from first on a double—the majority of guys, not all of them—we score from second, we take extra bases. There’s a lot of different stuff that we do.
“We’re also a good defensive club. First base, second base, catching—we’re really good. So, we win games in different ways.”
Dodger president Stan Kasten joked about payrolls after his team eliminated Milwaukee.
“I’m a little concerned about having to play these high payroll teams,” Kasten quipped, referring to Boston ranking second in the majors this year with a $206 million payroll while the Dodgers were 11th at $157 million. “It seems unfair to make us do that. But we’re going to give it our best anyway.”
What was unfair in Game 1 was the stacked Boston lineup that destroyed the Dodgers from various angles. Nunez’s homer came against lefty Alex Wood, once a starter but now a reliever in the playoffs. Pedro Baez was doing just fine in relief, and Roberts left himself open to questioning with that move. It was the third homer Wood has allowed this postseason.
By the end of the mauling, the Fenway Park crowd was roaring that age-old favorite chant in Boston. As “Beat LA! Beat LA!” carried deep into the night, the notion of beating these Red Sox seemed as difficult as stopping those echoes.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.