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For Starters, It’s About Who Finishes: Takeaways From World Series Gm. 1

We’d say the Boston Red Sox are off to an encouraging start after Tuesday’s 8-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the World Series.

Before Game 2’s first pitch tonight at Fenway Park, Tiebreaker.com takes a look at back to identify three storylines that made Game 1 memorable.

World Series Game 1

Rob Carr / Getty

It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish

If you’ve been following our thought process this season, you know we’re not big on paying starting pitchers a lot of money. That’s because it’s becoming apparent that starters are just filling time before managers get to business with their bullpens.

So we yawned when it was announced that Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw would start Game 1. Let’s be honest, this was not Tom Seaver vs. Catfish Hunter or Jim Palmer vs. Sandy Koufax.

If there’s one thing analytics are good for, it’s their ability to identify statistical trends. And by now, we all know if a starting pitcher gives you six innings, it’s time to ask for a raise.

Kershaw, perhaps the best pitcher in the last decade, barely made it to the fifth inning. In fact, he left before he retired a single hitter in the inning after allowing 10 baserunners.

Sale, the best lefthander in MLB when on point, didn’t get any further. He also was toast before getting an out in the fifth and he let eight Dodgers reach base. The Dodgers swung and missed on only two of his 42 fastballs.

It was just the fourth time in MLB history that starters in Game 1 of the World Series each failed to retire more a dozen hitters.

This should not be considered an aberration. That Kershaw and Sale were followed by a caravan of 10 relievers is more instructive to how the game is played these days than not. In most cases, if you don’t have a deep bullpen, you don’t have a chance.

Johnny Cueto of the Kansas City Royals tossed the last World Series complete game against the New York Mets in 2015. Cueto, Madison Bumgarner (2014) and Cliff Lee (2009) have the only complete games in the last 15 World Series. Only seven of the 40 starters in the postseason this season have gotten more than 19 outs.

While it’s true that neither Kershaw or Sale are the same pitchers they once were, it’s also true that it probably wouldn’t have mattered if they were.

It was only a matter of time before Alex Cora and Dave Roberts went looking for Matt Barnes and Ryan Madson, beginning the mix-and-match march to the final out, which Craig Kimbrel finally delivered after 13 pitches and two strikeouts.

After Kershaw threw 79 pitches, four Dodgers relievers covered the last four innings with 60. After Sale tossed 91, six Sox relievers threw 78 over the last five.

“My job as a starting pitcher is to pitch as deep as I can into the game and win,” said Sale. “But I just have to give my team a chance.”

World Series Game 1

Elsa / Getty

Timely Hitting Counts

The sports radio talk shows in New York this summer were filled with conversation about why the New York Yankees appeared so inferior to the Red Sox, despite winning 100 games.

Many assumed the reason was the lack of quality starting pitching, a theory we gladly debunk based solely on our aforementioned opinion that starters no longer are finishers.

The reason the Red Sox were better than the Yankees, better than the Houston Astros, and, we believe, on the way to their fourth Series title since 2004, is because they are better situational hitters.

The Yankees broke MLB record for home runs in a single season. The Red Sox had the MLB’s top hitter, Mookie Betts, its most versatile hitter, J.D. Martinez, and led the Majors in batting average.

Game 1 perfectly proved this point. Boston’s patient approach against Kershaw paid off. His fastball isn’t what it once was, so the Sox figured he’d turn to his slider and they were waiting to strike when it darted through the strike zone.

They Sox poked the pitch all around Fenway, setting the stage for rallies that gave them a 5-3 lead after five.

“The slider wasn’t very good tonight,” said Kershaw. “Didn’t have the depth. Kind of flat in the zone. And they made me pay for it.”

Look at the first inning: Certainly, Boston got a break when David Freese couldn’t corral Betts’ foul pop behind first base. But then Betts singled, and after stole second – and won free tacos for the nation – Andrew Benintendi found space to the glove side of second baseman Brian Dozier to plate the first run. Then Martinez singled to center. It was 2-0.

The top four hitters in the Red Sox lineup were 6-of-9 against Kershaw. Benintendi had three of his four hits off him. Of Boston’s 11 hits, there were two doubles and, of course, the three-run, pinch-hit homer by Eduardo Nunez in the seventh.

You don’t have to hit home runs to score runs. Singles count, too. Baseball 101.

World Series Game 1

Al Bello / Getty

Make A Decision – Hope It Works Out

The Era of Analytics has taken a lot of the guesswork out of managing. Organizations spend a lot of money breaking down statistics, computing probability as if they were actuaries working in the insurance industry. Managers are “encouraged” to follow the book – the team’s book.

But everyone once in a while a manager will act on a hunch. And it will result in a moment that defines a game.

Roberts thought he had a good idea by starting all righthanded hitters against Sale, the first time in World Series history that had happened.

Then in the seventh inning, Roberts had another idea.

Lefthander Julio Arias was on the mound to start the inning, the Red Sox clinging to a 5-4 lead. Benintendi led off with a double. Roberts replaced Arias with righthander Pedro Baez, who had allowed only one run in his last 26 innings. He began by whiffing Mitch Moreland. And after intentionally waking Martinez, he struck out Xander Bogaerts.

Money. But not enough.

Roberts trudged back and gave the ball to lefthander Alex Wood, a converted starter, essentially daring Cora to pinch-hit for Rafael Devers, a left-handed hitter batting .364 in the postseason.

Cora didn’t blink, sending veteran Eduardo Nunez to hit, even though the world knows Devers, just 22, is a much better hitter. This was the same Nunez that Cora decided shouldn’t start the game.

“We need a right-handed bat off the bench,” Cora said he told Nuñez. “They are going to mix and match. If we play all the righties, then our bench will not be where it should be.”

Remember, Nunez hit only .265 thus season with 10 homers, dealing with ankle and right knee issues. But Cora had a feeling, a hunch. To hell with the analytics.

On Wood’s second pitch, an 83 mph knuckle curve, Nunez reached down and golfed it 373 feet to left for the three-run homer that iced the game.

“I understood. I’m a veteran now. I’m not a selfish player,” said Nunez of the decision to use him off the bench. “Devers has played well. (Cora) explained to me, lefties were hitting Kershaw were pretty well — it was a good matchup. He told me, ‘Be prepared late in the game. If they bring in a lefty for Devers, you will hit for him.’

“That was the plan.”

And it made Cora look like a genius – for now, at least.

 

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