There were 10 pitching changes and six pinch hitters, the Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers taking turns trying to wring every advantage they could out of their respective rosters in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night.
In the end, the biggest edge for the Red Sox was their rookie manager and his October-long knack for making the right decision.
Alex Cora used six relievers to finish what Chris Sale started and dropped in Eduardo Nunez to deliver a clinching shot in the seventh inning as the Sox took an 8-4 victory.
The Red Sox bullpen allowed one run over five innings, their work made easier when Nunez pinch hit and lined a three-run homer to left field on a pitch at his feet.
Game 2 will be Wednesday at 8:09 p.m. with David Price facing Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the Series in 12 of the last 15 seasons.
Cora said before the series that he expected the Dodgers to use their deep roster like a hockey team, swapping in waves of players.
Manager Dave Roberts, his old friend and teammate, did just that, but Cora was prepared.
“I love it. I love it,” Cora said. “It’s a challenge. They’re going to mix and match. They’re going to pinch-hit; they’re going to bring their relievers. “Actually you have to manage them and see who they have, and where they’re going to come in, and when is going to be the point that the matchup is going to benefit us.”
Cora found that sweet spot with two on and two on in the seventh. When the Dodgers went to lefty Alex Wood, he sent up Nunez.
Nunez, who was disappointed to learn he wasn’t in the starting lineup of his first World Series game, was told hours before to be ready to face a lefty late in the game, perhaps Wood.
“Guys first and second. I know he don’t want me to beat him with fastball,” Nunez said. “So I will see something soft, and he did it twice.”
Wood started Nunez with a curveball and when he doubled up on the pitch, Nunez drove it to the base of the light tower in left. Nunez raised his right arm as he rounded first. The crowd only got louder.
For Nunez, who injured his right knee in the first game of the postseason last year and had to come off the roster, it was the biggest moment of his career.
“I don’t care about being a hero. As long as we have the win, that’s all that matters,” he said. “We are here to win and lose together.”
Brock Holt laughed afterward, saying he all but expected Nunez to homer given how adept Cora has been at making moves.
“I was yelling at him, ‘Hey A.C., man, everything you touch turns to gold,’” Holt said. “He’s been great, man. I think it’s the communication thing that he does so well that helps us stay ready. It shows.”
The Red Sox are 8-2 this postseason and have won five straight. They are now 13-2 in World Series games dating to 2004, 7-1 at Fenway Park.
J.D. Martinez had two hits and drove in two runs. Benintendi was 4 for 5 with a double and three runs scored. He is the third Sox player with four hits in a Series game.
“I don’t really care, honestly. I’m just glad we won, he said.
As the most energetic crowd of the postseason chanted “Beat LA!” Craig Kimbrel finished the game with a perfect ninth inning. Sox relievers held the Dodgers to three hits and retired the final eight batters in a row.
Matt Barnes, the first of the relievers, was the winner.
“Both teams have the ability to work pitch counts and get pitch counts higher, so you’re going to have to go to the pen and play matchups, and that’s kind of how I saw it, we saw it,” Roberts said. “But they got the big hit when they needed it.”
A matchup of aces turned into a battle of bullpens as Sale and Clayton Kershaw combined to allow eight runs on 12 hits. Neither was able to record an out in the fifth inning.
For Kershaw, his first game at Fenway Park did not start well.
Mookie Betts led off the bottom of the first with a line drive single to center and stole second base on the first pitch to Benintendi.
Benintendi singled to right and Betts scored. Yasiel Puig made an ill-advised heave to the plate and Benintendi took second base.
That proved important when Martinez singled to center and Benintendi easily scored.
Sale gave the lead back. After striking out three of the first five batters he faced, the lefthander left a full-count fastball over the plate to Matt Kemp and he drove into the Monster Seats.
Singles by Justin Turner, David Freese, and Manny Machado produced a run for the Dodgers in the third.
With two outs and Steve Pearce on first base in the third inning, Kershaw threw a slider on the inside corner that Martinez lined to center field for an RBI double.
Martinez is 7 for 13 in his career against Kershaw with four extra-base hits.
Sale took a 3-2 lead into the fifth inning, but had thrown 86 pitches. When Sale walked Brian Dozier, Barnes came in.
Turner singled. With one out, Barnes bounced a curveball and the runners moved up on the wild pitch. That allowed Dozier to score on Machado’s groundout.
Sale was charged with three runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out seven but saw his pitch count climb quickly. Tuesday was his first time on the mound since Game 1 of the ALCS. He was hospitalized with a stomach ailment later that night.
The bottom of the fifth inning also saw Kershaw unable to record an out.
Betts walked and went to second when Benintendi singled. That was the end of Kershaw’s night.
Ryan Madson came in and walked Pearce on four pitches to load the bases, then struck out Martinez on three pitches.
When Xander Bogaerts grounded to shortstop, it was too slow to turn a double play and Betts scored. Rafael Devers’s two-out single made it 5-3 Sox.
For Devers, who turns 22 on Wednesday, it was his 13th RBI in 11 postseason games.
Ryan Brasier allowed a run in the seventh inning. The bottom of the inning was a flurry of moves.
Benintendi doubled off Julio Urias. The Dodgers then went to righthander Pedro Baez, who struck out pinch hitter Mitch Moreland, intentionally walked Martinez, and struck out Bogaerts.
When Roberts went Wood against Devers, Cora countered with Nunez.
It was the fourth pinch-hit home run for the Red Sox in the World Series, the first since Bobby Kielty in Game 4 in 2007.
“It’s tough to manage against them. I saw it last year,” Cora said. “It’s a grind. But when you have talent like we do — and we have guys that they can hit lefties or righties — you feel comfortable.”
More photos from Game 1: