Channeling the bewitching brilliance in two-out situations that has defined their overpowering October run, the Red Sox mounted a three-run rally against Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and reliever Ryan Madson to take a lead they would not squander in Wednesday's 4-2 victory at Fenway Park in Game 2 of this World Series. Among the many reasons the Sox now have a commanding 2-0 edge in this best-of-seven set, their prowess when the out count has them in a corner has been the biggest difference-maker.
"If you can keep the inning alive," second baseman Ian Kinsler said, "anything can happen."
It keeps happening for the team two wins away from its ninth World Series title.
The two-out magic was certainly the difference in the game-changing fifth at a frigid Fenway. With Boston facing a 2-1 deficit after Los Angeles had put together a two-run fourth off starter David Price, Kinsler's groundout and Jackie Bradley Jr.'s popout made it appear as though the Red Sox would go down quietly in their second trip through the order against Ryu. To that point, Ryu had endured only one hiccup -- a second-inning sequence in which Xander Bogaerts ripped a double off the Green Monster and Kinsler brought him home with a ground-ball single.
But it was the No. 9 spot of the Boston nine that got the big inning going, as Christian Vazquez, who had a .540 OPS this season and was down to his final strike, went the other way with a cutter on the outside edge to line a single to right. That brought the top of the order up a third time, and the so-called penalty proved plentiful for Ryu. He served up a single to Mookie Betts, then walked Andrew Benintendi to load the bases and end his evening.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went to a trusted source of high-leverage help in waiver-trade acquisition Madson, despite Madson's shakiness in the Series opener.
"Madson has been our guy for quite some time, and he's pitched out of big spots there," Roberts said. "The usage right there, I'm not worried about that. He's fresh. He pitched yesterday, didn't throw too many pitches. Had a couple of days off coming into the Series, has an off-day [Thursday]. So that part of it was pretty easy. And I just felt I really liked him against [Steve] Pearce."
Madson had said prior to Game 2 that the cold conditions at Fenway called for an adjustment to his routine and his grip. It's possible that he was better prepared for the situation he faced in the fifth, but he was no more successful. Madson walked Pearce to bring in the tying run, then served up a single to right off the bat of J.D. Martinez that a deep-playing Yasiel Puig could not corral. Two more runs scored, and the red-hot Red Sox were back in their familiar place atop the runs count thanks to a familiar two-out outcome.
Martinez's hit was part of a trend in which the Red Sox are hitting .415 (17-for-41) with two outs and runners in scoring position. To put that in perspective, the next-highest team average for a postseason club with at least 30 at-bats in those situations belongs to the 1910 Philadelphia A's (.394).
The two-out triumph wouldn't have mattered much if the Red Sox didn't pitch a little bit. But Price continued to shake off the October boogeyman with six effective innings in which he allowed just the two runs on three hits with three walks and five strikeouts. And a Boston bullpen that entered October a question mark and has instead emerged with an exclamation point took it from there.
"I take a lot of pride in being able to evolve from pitch to pitch or day to day, whatever it is," Price said. "Just being able to make adjustments on the fly.
"But like I said before this postseason, I'd rather go winless and we win the World Series than me going 4-0 or 5-0 and we lose. We're playing good baseball right now, but that's a very good team over there. We need to go to L.A. and not let it come back to Boston."
Of the 51 teams that have jumped out to a 2-0 lead at home in a World Series with the 2-3-2 format, 41 (or 80 percent) have gone on to win the championship. And since 2004, when the Red Sox rallied from an 0-3 deficit against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, the past 15 teams to grab a 2-0 lead at home in a best-of-seven series have gone on to take the series. That also includes Boston's '07 title team.
As for the Dodgers, they're not quite down to their final out, but they need a rally of their own.
"We've got to start fresh," said L.A. outfielder Chris Taylor. "We're going home in front of our home crowd. We've got to win a game. Our focus is winning [the first game] at home. It's always comforting to get in front of your home fans, but we're going to have to win games here, too. We can't use it as an excuse."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Sweet relief: It doesn't have to be conventional; it just has to work. And once again, Red Sox manager Alex Cora's decision to use a starting pitcher in the setup role worked wonderfully. For the second time in as many games, Nathan Eovaldi was called upon to pitch the eighth against the Dodgers. And for the second time in as many games, he turned in a quick 1-2-3 inning.
This was Eovaldi's third time pitching out of the 'pen this postseason, and he's responded with 3 1/3 scoreless innings, though it remains to be seen how the back-to-back appearances will affect his availability for a starting assignment in Saturday night's Game 4. Rick Porcello and Chris Sale have also provided a combined 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief this October.
"Like I've been saying all along, we're all-in every day," Cora said. "If we feel there's a chance to close the door with [a starter], we'll use him. ... If we have a chance to be up 3-0 with [Eovaldi] on the mound and [Craig Kimbrel, who tossed a perfect ninth for the save], we'll do it. And then we'll figure out Game 4."
First and last: The good news was that Puig's fourth-inning RBI single gave the Dodgers their first lead of this World Series. The bad news is that it was their last hit of the ballgame. Los Angeles had loaded the bases against Price with no outs thanks to consecutive singles from David Freese and Manny Machado and a Taylor walk. Matt Kemp's sacrifice fly got the Dodgers on the board, and Puig's single gave them the 2-1 edge. From that point forward, though, L.A. went 0-for-16 with four strikeouts.
"I thought the compete was there," Roberts said. "You've got to give credit to Price. He made pitches when he needed to. We had him, we had him on the ropes. I thought that early on we stressed him. We had some situational at-bats, got some baserunners, took our walks. And the difference is they got the big hit when they needed, and we didn't."
SOUND SMART • The Red Sox are now in sole possession of the fourth-highest combined regular season and postseason win total, with 117. If they win the World Series and finish with 119, they will pass the 1906 Cubs (118) and trail only the '98 Yankees (125) and the 2001 Mariners (120).
• Boston is 14-2 in its past 16 World Series games, dating back to 2004. The Yankees are the only other team to go 14-2 or better in any 16-game stretch of World Series play, going 16-1 in a 17-game stretch in the Fall Classic from Game 3 in 1996 to Game 5 in 2000.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS Benintendi's grace: The Dodgers still had a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth, when Brian Dozier led off with a drive to left. The ball had just a 14-percent hit probability, according to Statcast™, but that didn't make what followed any less eye-catching. Benintendi, whose diving game-ending snag of a sinking Alex Bregman liner in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Astros was one of the defensive highlights of this postseason, made a beautiful galloping grab of Dozier's liner just in front of the Green Monster for the first out of a 1-2-3 inning for Price.
"Benintendi made a heck of a play, and that was a game-changer," Dozier said. "If that ball falls, they probably get somebody else up [in the bullpen]. Little things like that can make a big difference."
Bellinger's athleticism: Not to be outdone, Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger flashed some leather of his own, denying Martinez of extra bases to lead off the eighth inning with a running, sliding catch on a ball that had just a 14-percent catch probability, according to Statcast™.