One guy (Rafael Devers) stroked a key, two-out RBI single in the fifth inning to give the Red Sox a two-run lead, and the other guy (Eduardo Nunez) came off the bench and hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning to put the finishing touches on Boston’s 8-4 victory over the Dodgers on Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series at Fenway Park.
Not a bad third base platoon, eh?
Nunez drove a dirt-high curveball from lefthander Alex Wood over the Green Monster with the Red Sox clinging to a one-run lead, eliciting an enormous amount of emotion from the 31-year-old journeyman, who has dealt with several leg injuries the past two seasons, and from teammates, who embraced him as he crossed home plate and got the star treatment as he entered the dugout.
Nunez was the latest in a long line of unsung heroes during this Red Sox run that has featured different winning themes from a variety of players. What pleased Nunez was being able to come off the bench after manager Alex Cora decided to start Devers at third after the 21-year-old (who turned 22 on Wednesday) hit .350 (7 for 20) with 7 RBIs in the 2018 postseason.
But Cora has worked this platoon to perfection, making all of the right decisions. While it appeared unorthodox to go with the lefthanded-hitting Devers against Dodgers ace lefthander Clayton Kershaw, boy did it work.
“Nunez was disappointed he didn’t start, but we felt Raffy would be hanging in there against Kershaw,” Cora said. “We thought having Nuney off the bench would pay off. It worked out. I told [Nunez] to be ready because you may have a big at-bat to help us win a game.”
“Alex talked to me about it this afternoon and explained to me that he needed me in the seventh or eighth inning if they brought in a lefty for Devers and that’s what we did,” Nunez said. “I don’t care about being a hero, as long as we get the win. That’s all that’s important.
“When I first hit it I thought it was going to be a single because I didn’t think it was going to be high enough.”
Ah, yes, that Cora magic.
The Sox posted a .719 OPS against lefthanded pitchers this season, just below the league average (.720). They led the majors in OPS (.817) against righthanded pitchers. So putting up five runs on seven hits against Kershaw was quite impressive, especially considering that Cora’s lineup had three lefthanders (Andrew Benintendi, Devers, and Jackie Bradley Jr.).
Devers certainly has had his problems in the field this season, committing 24 errors. And then he got hurt and fell out of favor as Nunez picked up his game after a slow start. There’s no doubt that Devers is the franchise third baseman going forward, but Nunez has had a knack of being a sparkplug, particularly after the Red Sox acquired him from the Giants in July 2017. Unfortunately for Nunez, his postseason was cut short by knee injuries, and ended when he collapsed coming out of the batter’s box in his first at-bat against Houston in the ALDS.
Still, the Red Sox re-signed him to a two-year free agent deal, mostly as protection for the recovering Dustin Pedroia at second base. Nunez was slated as the righthanded utilityman, but most of his time was spent at second base when Pedroia was unable to go out of spring training. That experiment didn’t go well, so the Red Sox acquired Ian Kinsler to upgrade the infield defense.
Nunez moved over to third base and played a solid role while Devers recovered from his hamstring injuries. But when Devers started hitting in September (an .807 OPS) Cora decided to go with the righty-lefty platoon.
Tuesday night the best of both worlds at third base came together.
It was a typical example of how Cora has seemingly struck gold this season.
The Red Sox, who improved to 13-2 in World Series games since 2004, added to a lead thanks to the Devers/Nunez tandem producing the last four runs of the game. The bullpen did a good job in relief of Chris Sale who was able to go just four-plus innings.
Only Ryan Brasier struggled, giving up one run in two-thirds of an inning to make it a 5-4 game.
Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and closer Craig Kimbrel sealed the victory in the 3-hour, 52-minute game.
But this moment, in this game, in this series, belonged to Nunez, who took his place in a long line of heroes who have emerged in this Red Sox postseason.