There is an excellent reason why baseball is such a delightful sport, a trusted summertime companion for those us who find inspiration in the words of Roger Angell and oratory of A. Bartlett Giamatti.
It is a sport which reveres history, whose statistics, not its analytics, speak to us and sometimes become synonymous with the very events they represent.
If you are a true baseball fan you know 714 is not a state highway. It was Babe Ruth’s career home run record until Hank Aaron, and later the steroid era, washed it away.
And if you are a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, you know what 1916 signifies. It was the only time the teams met in the World Series – until this season.
What was so special about 1916? Plenty.
The Red Sox had Ruth, but didn’t play their home games in Fenway Park that season. Management moved them to the larger Boston Braves field for the 1916-17 seasons. The Brooklyn Robins, as they were then known, had an outfielder named Casey Stengel.
Ruth threw a 14-inning complete game in Game 2, a 2-1 Red Sox win. After allowing an inside-the-park homer in the first inning, Ruth pitched 13 scoreless to start a 29 2/3-inning Series scoreless streak that lived until Whitey Ford eclipsed it in 1961.
The Red Sox won the Series in five games, defending the title it won the year before by beating the Philadelphia Phillies in five. And now 102 years later, the teams will play again when the 2018 World Series begins in Boston on Tuesday night.
You know what that means, Red Sox fans. Dave Roberts, author of the most famous stolen base in postseason history — Oct. 17, 2004, Game 4, catalyst for the Sox comeback from a 3-0 ALCS deficit against the Yankees — returns as Dodgers manager. Do you remember it was the Dodgers who actually traded him to the Red Sox in the summer of 2004?
Look, Red Sox fans. You already had your chance to say thanks. When Roberts came back to Fenway for the ring ceremony during the home opener in 2005, no longer a member of the team, you stood and cheered louder for him than any other player. So hey, you can wait and cheer him again at the 20th reunion, right? Doubtful. Expect another rousing and heartfelt ovation when Roberts is the first man out of either dugout for the player introductions before Game 1. The Steal lives forever in Beantown.
The Red Sox were the best team in the American League and proved it unequivocally with decisive wins over the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, the defending World Champion. The Sox won a franchise-record 108 regular season games, but since 1961, only five teams have won the Series after winning as many or more, the last the 1998 Yankees, who won 114.
The Dodgers, who won just 16 of their first 42 games, ended up with 92 wins this season. The 16-game difference is tied for the third-biggest win differential in World Series history. They had to win an NL West tiebreaker against Colorado to secure their sixth straight divisional title. Then they beat the Braves in four in the NLDS.
We all know about the drought endured by Red Sox fans until they finally won the 2004 World Series – and had two more since. Well, the Dodgers haven’t won in 30 years, since Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson helped them defeat the Oakland A’s. And they had a chance last year, but could not master the Astros.
These are teams with great starters, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale. The Dodgers can follow that up with rookie Walker Buehler, who pitched so well in their Game 7 win in Milwaukee in the NLCS, Rich Hill and Hyun Jin-Ryu. The Sox will respond with David Price, Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello.
Sale is still rebounding from late-season shoulder inflammation. He worked only 17 innings in August and September, but he still dominated the Yankees in the ALDS. Kershaw isn’t throwing as hard as he used to, either. But he threw eight scoreless against the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 of the NLDS and closed Game 7 against the Brewers.
The Sox have a slugging lineup, highlighted by MLB’s batting average champion, Mookie Betts (.346, 32 homeruns) and the explosive power bat of J.D. Martinez (.330, 43 homers, 130 RBIs) and ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley, Jr.
How good was Bradley? He hit two HRs, a two-run shot in Game 4 that provided the winning cushion and an eight-inning grand slam off Roberto Osuna that sealed Game 3. He also cleared the bases in Game 2 with a double off Gerrit Cole, who is no slouch.
But Betts hit .217 against the Astros. Andrew Benintendi checked in at .208. Still Boston scored almost six runs a game in the series because of Rafael Devers (five hits, a three-run homer off Justin Verlander) and Steve Pearce, whose homer righted the Sox in Game 3.
The Dodgers have a complete lineup, highlighted by Manny Machado, Justin Turner (.310 postseason average), Max Muncy (35 HRs in 379 at-bats) and Clay Bellinger, the NLCS MVP. But Machado has struck out 13 times in the postseason, which will do little to decrease his value on the free agent market.
How good was Bellinger? He won his MVP despite hitting only .200 against the Brewers because of his walk-off hit in the 13th inning of Game 4 and his two-run homer in Game 7.
Los Angeles, with seven players cracking at least 20, finished second to the Yankees in home runs this season (a franchise-high 235), but the Red Sox led MLB in batting average and on-base percentage.
It seems appropriate that these two lineups should clash. The Sox (5.41 runs per game) led MLB and the Dodgers (4.93) led the NL.
When the bullpen is needed, the Dodgers can call on one of the best closers, Kenley Jansen, who is over the trauma of blowing two games in last year’s World Series. He has 10 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.
Craig Kimbrel has tortured Red Sox fans (7.11 ERA, six walks, two hit batsmen) in the postseason, allowing runs in four of his five appearances – all saves, by the way. But Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes have allowed only two earned runs and nine hits in 18 2/3 innings during the playoffs.
Who do we think will win? Red Sox in 6.