Nine thoughts on the Red Sox’ 4-2 victory over the Dodgers in Game 2 of the World Series . . .
1. It’s not just the expected that’s going right for the Red Sox. It’s just about everything. Maybe that has been a season-long story — after all, they never lost more than three games in a row en route to a franchise-record 108 wins — but it’s supposed to be difficult to sustain in the postseason. Yet here they are, two victories from clinching the World Series, and now they’re out there turning perceived weaknesses into strengths. David Price, who as you may have heard lost his first nine career decisions as a starting pitcher in the postseason, has now won two in a row, allowing just three hits and a pair of runs in six innings during a gritty and determined Game 2 performance. There’s the suddenly stellar bullpen, with Joe Kelly throwing 100 miles per hour and apparently having rented Pedro Martinez’s changeup for a few weeks, and Everyday Nathan Eovaldi recording big outs whenever needed in whatever role. There’s the familiar, too — J.D. Martinez driving in crucial runs, the team-wide aggressiveness at the plate and on the bases, and manager Alex Cora outmaneuvering the opposing brain trust. If this goes according to form on the road — oh yeah, they’re 5-0 away from Fenway this postseason — the next time we see them at Fenway will be when they’re boarding the Duck Boats for a joyride around the city.
2. It might be lost in all of the other subplots of this game and series, but Price deserves a tip of the cap for navigating a jam in the fourth inning that might have been his downfall in another time and place — like, say, two weeks ago. Price didn’t give up a hit in the first three innings as the Red Sox took a 1-0 lead, but David Freese and Manny Machado got him for back-to-back singles to the start the fourth inning, then he walked Chris Taylor to load the bases. The old David Price — right, the one from two weeks ago — might have melted until there was nothing left but a puddle and a pair of spikes, especially since home plate umpire Kerwin Danley did not exactly have a generous strike zone. The Dodgers tied it on Matt Kemp’s sacrifice fly to Jackie Bradley Jr., and one out later, Yasiel Puig flared one into right to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. (Puig celebrated the hit by pretending to shoot a basketball, but his form was brutal even for a member of the Ball family). In a moment in which it felt like the game might be dangling in the balance, Price ended the rally by striking out Austin Barnes. Could have been much worse. At one time for Price, it probably would have been.
3. Concern about the condition of J.D. Martinez’s right ankle, which he twisted rounding second base in Game 1, seems somewhat justified. In his first two at-bats Wednesday — a fly out to center field and a routine grounder to short — he barely went for a light jog down the baseline before turning toward the dugout. There’s a day off before Game 3, but this does not look like someone ready to play the outfield in Dodger Stadium. That said, man, did he look like the familiar Martinez at the plate in the fifth inning when the Sox needed him to be at his best. With the score tied at 2, the bases loaded, and two outs, Martinez poked an opposite-field liner to right field to drive in Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi. It’s the kind of thing he did all season, even if he didn’t hit the baseball as hard as usual. Martinez also hit a rocket to left-center in the eighth, but Cody Bellinger ran it down. Now, if the National League would just adopt the designated hitter before Friday.
4. It wasn’t the star-turn of his four-hit World Series debut in Game 1, but Andrew Benintendi was a major contributor in Game 2 even though he went 0 for 3. I’m still not sure how to rate Benintendi as an outfielder, but he’s at least pretty good, and he reminded us again, just as he did for the final out of the ALCS in Houston, that he has a knack for the spectacular. Benintendi made a running, leaping catch to rob Brian Dozier leading off the fifth, a play that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Yaz’s highlight reel. Then, in the bottom half, he provided one of the crucial at-bats of the night, working an eighth-pitch walk against starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. That loaded the bases with two outs and the Dodgers leading, 2-1. Two batters later, the Red Sox had a 4-2 lead, and Benintendi’s patience was a subtly important moment.
5. I’ll admit to some skepticism that pitch-tipping was a fundamental reason why Craig Kimbrel spent the first two rounds of the playoffs doing a Heathcliff Slocumb imitation. There’s little doubt it could have aided hitters in making contact when Kimbrel was in the strike zone — can you imagine if Gary Sanchez’s bases-loaded drive in Game 4 against the Yankees had carried another 15 feet and we later learned he knew what was coming? — but it does not explain why his slider seemed to find the dirt in the lefthanded hitters’ batter’s box more often than it did the catcher’s mitt. Also, color me skeptical that Eric Gagne would discover something that had eluded Kimbrel and the Red Sox’ staff. But whatever the issue really was, it appears to be remedied. Kimbrel has closed out both games of the World Series, striking out two without allowing a baserunner.
6. If you require further evidence that a relief pitcher’s earned run average isn’t always telling the truth, consider this evidence: Dodgers reliever Ryan Madson came in for Clayton Kershaw during a 3-3 tie in the fifth inning of Game 1 and allowed both inherited runners to score. Wednesday night, Madson entered during the fifth inning again, this time with the bases loaded and two outs. He promptly walked Steve Pearce on five pitches to tie the score at 2-2, then gave up a two-run single to Martinez as the Red Sox took the lead. The math: Through two games, Madson has inherited five runners, allowed all of them to score, been on the mound when the Red Sox took the lead in both games . . . and has an ERA of 0.00 in the series.
7. No matter how you feel about Curt Schilling’s politics — and for the sake of transparency, I find his worldview loathsome — it is a bummer that any time members of the 2004 Red Sox get together we now have to snoop at the guest list to see who was invited and who was not. That season should be a cause for celebration and reminiscence, not a cause to bicker about politics. I do believe the Red Sox when they say the gathering came together organically, since David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, and Kevin Millar were already here for their television duties. I also believe they wouldn’t have invited Schilling had it crossed their minds. If we’re going to lament who wasn’t there, it would have been nice to see Derek Lowe, Bill Mueller, and Manny Ramirez too.
8. Prediction: Mookie Betts is going to seize the Hollywood spotlight at Dodger Stadium. The frontrunner for the American League MVP Award has struggled during the postseason, entering Game 2 with a .209 average, .585 OPS, and just three extra-base hits in 10 playoff games. But he came through with three hits in Game 2, including a seventh-inning double off Kenta Maeda that appeared to have a contrail behind it. The venue is different, but it seems appropriate that the region of the country fortunate enough to see Mike Trout on a regular basis should get a chance to see Mookie Betts at his best too.
9. The most impressive statistic produced by the Red Sox during the postseason is this: With two outs, they are batting .415 (17 of 41) with 11 walks in the postseason. Actually, that’s not just impressive. It’s insane. But my favorite statistic is this one: They are now 14-2 in World Series games since 2004. If you can’t marvel at that with the utmost appreciation, consider that it wasn’t that long ago that the franchise had lost 13 straight playoff games, from Game 6 of the 1986 World Series until Pedro Martinez beat the Indians in Game 1 of the 1998 Division Series. These good times were hard-earned. Don’t forget to savor every inning of them.