BOSTON – Make no mistake: The Los Angeles Dodgers can still win this World Series.
Know this, as well: The Dodgers and Boston Red Sox are creating the impression that one team might not belong on the same field as the other.
It’s far from a surprise, given that the Red Sox won 108 games in the viper pit that’s the American League and the Dodgers meandered to 92 victories in the underwhelming National League.
That gap on paper was greatly exacerbated by both clubs’ execution in the first two games of this World Series. And after the Red Sox seized a commanding lead with a 4-2 victory in Wednesday night’s Game 2 at Fenway Park, the writing is on the wall as the clubs scamper for the sunnier climes of L.A.
“We need to win three now,” Dodgers infielder David Freese said. “We gotta get back and get that game, big-time. It’s a necessity. Tonight was huge.
“Historically, it’s not a good thing losing the first two, but if we can pick up Game 3, things can change.”
Fair enough. But what happened in these first two games that suggests anything will change?
The Red Sox played with conviction, borne of a consistency that comes with leaning on largely the same group of players through 162 games.
The Dodgers? They granted a total of six plate appearances to Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger, leaving their combined 60 home runs on the bench for most of the first two games as they strictly adhered to a platoon system that got them this far.
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Red Sox manager Alex Cora pushed every correct button, going for the kill with the 100-mph gas of Nathan Eovaldi out of the bullpen on consecutive nights, hooking Chris Sale with urgency in the fourth inning of Game 1 but letting David Price cruise through six masterful frames in a career-defining start in Game 2.
Dave Roberts? He might have yanked starter Hyun-Jin Ryu at the right time in Game 2, but going to Ryan Madson for the ninth time in 13 postseason games after a Game 1 meltdown backfired terribly. Nothing changed in Game 2: Madson gave up a bases-loaded walk and go-ahead two-run single, and now all five baserunners he’s inherited in this World Series have scored.
To recap: Madson entered Game 1 with a 3-3 tie and exited down 5-3. In Game 2, he inherited a 2-1 lead and exited with the Dodgers down 4-2.
“Madson has been our guy for quite some time,” he said of the reliever acquired from Washington on Aug. 31, “and he’s pitched out of some big spots there. He’s fresh. In that spot he’s done it time and time again for us, but the last couple of nights, it hasn’t worked out.”
Red Sox batters have been savants with two outs, or two strikes, or two outs and two strikes, scoring nine of their 12 runs this series with two down. Personnel helps: No. 2 hitter Andrew Benintendi, a .290 hitter and .366 on-base man who knocked out four base hits in Game 1, spoiled a pair of full-count curveballs from Ryu to draw a walk to load the bases in the fateful fifth inning.
When Madson walked Steve Pearce to drive in the tying run, he was faced with J.D. Martinez, who paired 43 home runs with a .402 OBP this season.
It was no match: Martinez drove a two-run single to right field, the ball dropping in front of Yasiel Puig, who was playing too deep despite getting a fresh set of positioning note cards from a bat boy moments earlier.
“Bloopers happen,” says Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes, “but we have to do a better job responding.”
Perhaps they lost this game an inning earlier, when they put Price on the ropes with a pair of fourth-inning runs to take their first lead of the series.
The key at-bat of the inning: Probably Price’s nine-pitch battle against Enrique Hernandez. Unlike Ryu and Madson in their key spots, Price was able to finish off Hernandez, blowing a 93-mph fastball by him for the second out.
Hernandez was a mere .256 hitter in the regular season, and this postseason has not been kind to him. He’s now 0-for-6 in this World Series with three strikeouts, and 3-for-37 (.081) overall.
After the loss, the Dodgers fielded a bevy of upbeat inquiries from L.A.’s electronic media about returning home to better weather and perhaps a turn in fortunes. Their answers were grounded in reality.
“Almost a hundred and 10 wins,” says Freese. “They know what they’re doing.”
“It’s going to be hard,” says Bellinger, who has three at-bats in the Series after winning NLCS MVP honors. “Regardless of whether you’re down, they’re a great team.”
And the Dodgers are only making them greater.
Follow Lacques on Twitter @GabeLacques
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