From Price to Pearce: How stars and unexpected heroes made the Red Sox unstoppable
LOS ANGELES — The visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium is about the size of a new SUV — and not one of those with the extra row of seats. So you can imagine the scene after you cram in a roster full of baseball players, coaches, clubhouse staff — plus photographers, video guys and news anchors, writers and assorted team officials.
It’s not exactly the best place to hold a party.
Then again, it’s the best place to hold a party, the place where a baseball team spends untold hours during a season, where the players discuss wins and losses, where friendships begin and the bonding of a championship team comes together.
Mitch Moreland wandered through the cramped quarters, a can of Budweiser in his hand, and spoke to nobody in particular in his Mississippi drawl, “I need to find my teammates. Where are my teammates?” Finally, Chris Sale, the “skinny one,” as manager Alex Cora likes to call him, had had enough.
Sale had entered in the ninth inning in relief of David Price, who pitched seven-plus brilliant innings, and then Joe Kelly, who finished off the eighth, and recorded the final three outs of the Red Sox’s 5-1 clinching victory over the Dodgers in Game 5. Cora’s plan, like everything else this postseason, mapped out to perfection — Price went deep into the game, retiring 14 batters in a row at one point, one of his unheralded middle relievers pitched a shutout inning, and then one of his starters made an appearance in relief.
It was fitting that Sale got the final three outs. Cora started Price over Sale in Game 5, a reflection of concern over how deep Sale would be able to pitch given his past two outings when he struggled with his command and diminished velocity. The bullpen had been worked heavily in Games 3 and 4, so Cora made the shift to Price — knowing he had Sale available in relief if necessary. All Sale did was strike out the side, the exclamation point on Boston’s dominant postseason run: 11-3 against the 100-win Yankees, 103-win Astros and the two-time National League champs. On the final strike, Manny Machado whiffed helplessly at a patented Sale slider and the dogpile ensued.
So there was the tall southpaw, goggles perched on top of his head, in the middle of the crowded clubhouse. As we saw in Game 4, when he theatrically screamed at his teammates in the dugout to start doing something, Sale has a voice that can carry a room, even one blaring “Dirty Water” and Cody Johnson’s “Dance Her Home.” He whistled and shouted out, “If you’re not a member of the Boston Red Sox, get the —.” He didn’t finish the sentence, although somebody else did. Maybe it was Moreland. Sale finished: “I want to enjoy this with my teammates.”
Maybe that best sums up this Red Sox team, arguably the best in franchise history and now just the fifth team in the divisional era since 1969 to win at least 108 games and the World Series. You don’t win that many games just on the backs of just superstars. While Sale and Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez all had their moments in the postseason and even in Game 5 — Betts and Martinez, hitless in the first two games at Dodger Stadium, tacked on some insurance runs with home runs off Clayton Kershaw in the sixth and seventh innings — it was those teammates that pushed the Red Sox to their fourth championship in the past 15 seasons.
The Game 5 heroes were Price and first baseman Steve Pearce. The man who began the postseason getting booed off the mound at Fenway Park against the Yankees finished it with three straight victories, with two of those starts, including this one, coming on just three days of rest. In those three games he pitched 19 innings, allowing nine hits and just three runs. He will no longer have to face that question — his inability to win in the playoffs. It had pretty clearly weighed on him — or, understandably, grown irritating.
“I hold all the cards now,” he said. “And that feels so good. That feels so good. I can’t tell how you good it feels to hold that trump card. And you guys have had it for a long time. You’ve played that card extremely well. But you don’t have it anymore, none of you do, and that feels really good.”
While Price validated the big contract the Red Sox gave him as a free agent before the 2016 season, Peace was the little-known in-season trade acquisition, a career journeyman who had remained in the majors with various teams primarily for his ability to hit left-handed pitching. The Red Sox got him from Toronto for minor league infielder Santiago Espinal, a 10th-round pick who signed for a $50,000. Call that the best $50,000 the Red Sox ever spent.
“He was exactly what we needed,” bench coach Ron Roenicke said.
Pearce came up against Kershaw in the bottom of the first after Andrew Benintendi had singled on a soft grounder up the middle. He killed the Dodgers — and Kershaw in particular, as he got four hits off him in two games — with some soft hits all series. The first pitch to Pearce was a 92 mph fastball, outside edge, and Pearce launched a 405-foot blast into the left-center bleachers.
That home run followed Pearce’s two big hits in Game 4 — the game-tying home run off Kenley Jansen in the eighth inning and then the bases-clearing double in the ninth. Those three hits earned him World Series MVP honors over Price. Then he capped it off with another home run off Pedro Baez in the eighth inning — a right-hander, please note. As he headed to first base, Pearce pointed to his teammates in the dugout. As he rounded third base, he gave a double-fisted pump with third-base coach Carlos Febles. Then he jumped on home plate like a five-year-old kid scoring a run for the first time.
“This has been a lifelong journey,” Pearce said. “And to be here right now is a dream come true.”
Pearce didn’t come to the Red Sox until the end of June, but many described him as one of those “glue” guys that keeps a clubhouse together. He’s played for seven different organizations — not including three different stints with the Orioles or one with the Twins when he didn’t survive spring training — and has been released or waived numerous times. He never batted 300 times in a season until he was 31 years old.
All he did was deliver the three biggest hits of the Boston season. Indeed, he’s been clutch since the Red Sox acquired him. Since joining the team, he hit 11 home runs: five against the Yankees, three in the World Series, one a go-ahead home run in the sixth inning of Game 3 in the ALCS (that was off a right-hander as well), and the other were go-ahead home runs in the regular season.
“You know, baseball is a funny game,” he tried to explain. “You never know where the game will take you. And I’ve gone through a lot in my life or in my career to be here, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”
The Red Sox received numerous contributions from all those teammates all postseason. Jackie Bradley Jr. is known for his defense, but he won ALCS MVP honors after driving in nine runs, including hitting a big grand slam. Second-year third baseman Rafael Devers drove in nine runs in the postseason, including a crucial three-run home run off Justin Verlander in Game 5 of the ALCS.
Then there was the bullpen — the part of the team Red Sox fans were most concerned about heading into the postseason. The Red Sox weren’t as concerned. “You don’t win 108 games without those guys doing the job all season,” Roenicke said.
Kelly was the guy who stepped up big. He’d been inconsistent all season long and wasn’t exactly Cora’s first choice of the pen with a lead when the postseason began. But Cora found a hot hand and rode Kelly. He pitched in all five World Series games, tossed six scoreless innings and allowed just three hits and no runs. In Game 5, he entered after Price walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth. He struck out Matt Kemp swinging on a 98 mph fastball. He struck out Joc Pederson looking at on a 97 mph fastball. He struck out Cody Bellinger swinging on a 99 mph fastball.
He slammed his fist into his glove and screamed in emotion as he ran off the mound.
That Boston bullpen? It had a 2.71 ERA all postseason. In the World Series it allowed five runs in 25 ⅔ innings and had a 1.40 ERA. Maybe their MVP was Kelly, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Nathan Eovaldi.
In the postgame celebration that took place on the field immediately after the trophy presentation, friends and family are allowed to meet up the players. Martinez posed for a photo with the World Series trophy with his two young nieces, both wearing Red Sox T-shirts embossed with Martinez’s 28 in silver glitter on “Uncle J” on the back. Barnes gave a big hug to parents. Barnes grew up in Connecticut — although his dad admitted he was a Mets fan. At least until the Red Sox drafted Barnes out of UConn.
Then there was Pearce. He received his MVP trophy and did his television interview. He was then ushered off to the interview room. Behind him was a gaggle of family and friends. He was still holding the trophy. He turned it around and handed it off. Like a good teammate, sometimes you have to depend on others.
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