All of the little things that cost the Dodgers Game 1

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

BOSTON -- After a disappointing 8-4 loss in Game 1 of the World Series, Clayton Kershaw identified a bizarre positive.

"We won Game 1 last year and lost the series," Kershaw said in reference to last year's Fall Classic, which saw his Los Angeles Dodgers fall to the Houston Astros in seven games. "Maybe we'll try it out this way, see if we can win one."

Kershaw pitched poorly on a dreary Tuesday night at Fenway Park, but so did his opponent, Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale. The opener of this highly anticipated World Series was billed as a showdown of two titans on the mound, but it came down to the boring stuff that tends to make the difference this time of year -- the fly balls that weren't caught, the double plays that weren't turned, the matchup decisions that didn't pan out.

"They're kind of brought to light very quick -- the what-ifs," Dodgers second baseman Brian Dozier said. "That's part of the game, that's why we play, but at the same time, little things add up to big things over the course of a long series."

Let's examine the ones that made all the difference in Game 1.

Can't make the turn: The Dodgers had chances to get out of the third and fifth innings unscathed, but their middle infielders, Dozier and Manny Machado, weren't quite quick enough to convert on potential inning-ending double plays. Steve Pearce beat one out in the third -- after Boston's challenge led to an overturned call -- to set up J.D. Martinez's scorching, run-scoring line drive off the center-field wall. Xander Bogaerts beat one out in the fifth, plating a run and allowing Rafael Devers to extend his RBI streak to eight postseason games with a single thereafter.

Pearce's grounder was hit slightly in the hole, and Andrew Benintendi got up from his slide early enough to perhaps inhibit Dozier's turn to first. Bogaerts reached on a chopper that once again forced Machado to make his initial throw to second base off one foot, allowing him to reach safely by a split second and spoilRyan Madson's chance to work out of another jam this month.

Pearce and Bogaerts each averaged 5.5 seconds from home plate to first base this season, according to Statcast data, but Pearce made it in 4.6 seconds and Bogaerts came in at 4.2 seconds on Tuesday. Dozier said he "didn't make a very good turn" on Pearce's grounder, but added: "I thought I got the second one."

"It's a tough play overall," Machado said. "Coming in, he can run, and he kind of had a little head start with kind of leaning toward first base on that. It was a close call."

Problems in the air: Mookie Betts, the favorite for American League MVP, skied a high fly ball into foul territory on the first-base side on Kershaw's second pitch of the night, seemingly gifting the Dodgers with an easy first out. But David Freese, a natural third baseman, had difficulty locating it. He got turned around, and the ball fell foul.

Four pitches later, Betts singled, stole second base, then scored on the first of Benintendi's four hits. Benintendi advanced to second base after Yasiel Puig airmailed his cutoff man, then scored easily on another run-scoring hit by Martinez.

"That's a tough, tough ball in the Bermuda Triangle," Freese said. "I felt it. I just got twisted."

Something similar happened in the bottom of the seventh with Joc Pederson, who had just checked in as the new left fielder. Benintendi led off the inning with a shallow fly ball in his direction. Pederson charged forward with third baseman Justin Turner bearing in on him. He reached out his glove, but the ball only scraped the edge of it, then ricocheted off the turf and bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double, setting up the three-run inning that changed the dynamic of Game 1.

Benintendi's fly ball carried a 20 percent hit probability.

"Just really good placement," Pederson said. "I was running in, calling it off, looking at JT to kind of visualize where he was and where the fence was, and I just couldn't get to it."

Bullpen game: When the fifth inning began, Kershaw had already expended 69 pitches and was getting ready to face the top of the Red Sox lineup for the third time. He walked Betts on nine pitches, gave up a sharp single to Benintendi, then was abruptly replaced by Madson, who hadn't been warming up for very long.

Was Kershaw surprised?

"I mean, I wasn't pitching well enough to make a case the other way," he said, "so I guess not."

The decision could have been made before the inning even began, given that the Dodgers trailed by only a run and Kershaw allowed nine of the first 15 batters to reach. But Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wanted to give Kershaw a chance to start the frame, conscious of the fact that he had struck out three of the previous four batters. He was going to remove Kershaw if Martinez, due up fourth that inning, came to bat, but ultimately did it sooner.

The one that really cost the Dodgers was the move Roberts might have made too soon: replacing Pedro Baez with Alex Wood with two on and two outs in what was still a one-run game in the seventh inning.

Baez, who had given up only one run in a stretch of 26 innings since Aug. 9, struck out the only two batters he actually pitched to, allowing another to reach on an intentional walk with first base open. Devers, a left-handed hitter, was coming up, so Roberts played the matchup with Wood, a lefty himself.

But left-handed hitters sported an .879 OPS against Wood since he became a reliever this season, and Roberts didn't get the matchup anyway. Red Sox manager Alex Cora chose to pinch hit with the right-handed-hitting Eduardo Nunez, who turned on a low-and-inside breaking ball and lined the pitch over the Green Monster for a three-run homer.

"I really liked Alex in that spot," Roberts said. "I did. Whether they were going to hit Devers with a lead or go to the bench and go with Nunez, I still liked Alex in that spot."

Nunez's home run was the major blow, but Freese, one of the few bright spots in an offense that went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, lamented what took place before that.

"We had opportunities," he said. "You have to show up, especially this time of year, Game 1 in Fenway. Double-play balls, that pop-up, you just can't let that happen. The close plays -- you want them to go your way. You just gotta get it done. You gotta play really good baseball in the World Series."

Related Video