BOSTON -- Fate and fatigue abruptly intervened on the would-be wonder of two premier pitchers staging some World Series Game 1 dueling drama.
Another ballgame entirely broke out Tuesday night at Fenway Park, where the Chris Sale-Clayton Kershaw playbill gave way to a hastily arranged alternative in which the Red Sox, who are now 116 wins deep into their 2018, defeated the Dodgers, 8-4, on the might of a more bullish bullpen, a more polished defensive effort and a back-breaking pinch-hit, three-run dinger off the bat of Eduardo Nunez.
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Nunez's shot off Alex Wood snuck over the top of the Green Monster in the seventh inning and broke open what had been a tense back-and-forth affair.
"It seemed like it was a tight ballgame the whole entire time," Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi said. "And getting that extra three runs and that extra cushion was kind of like a deep breath, and an exhale."
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Because neither Kershaw nor Sale made it out of the fifth inning, this game fit the overarching October theme of postseason baseball becoming bullpen-dependent. The Red Sox simply had a few more key outs in their arsenal.
Kershaw's first career start at Fenway Park had led to action on the hand-operated scoreboard right away, with Boston grabbing a quick 2-0 lead. Kershaw got little help from the missed popup that first baseman David Freese didn't snare in foul territory or Yasiel Puig's overthrown cutoff man that allowed Benintendi to get in scoring position on his RBI single.
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"I don't think [Kershaw] had the fastball command that he typically does, missing up in the zone," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I don't think his slider had the depth that we're used to seeing. And those guys, to their credit, put some good at-bats on him. And we didn't play the defense that we typically do. I thought we left some outs out there, and it didn't make Clayton's job any easier."
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Against a Dodgers team that became the first in Series history to start an all-right-handed lineup with no switch-hitters, Sale similarly abandoned his end of the alluring ace alignment when he squandered that 2-0 edge, with a big blow coming on Matt Kemp's second-inning homer.
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That was part of some early jockeying in which the Red Sox would ante up and the Dodgers would answer. J.D. Martinez's RBI double off the wall near the center-field triangle made it 3-2 in the bottom of the third, but Los Angeles knotted it up again in the top of the fifth. After Sale was chased by a leadoff walk to James Dozier, the Dodgers took advantage of a wild pitch from reliever Matt Barnes to help manufacture another game-tying run.
A similar formula evolved in the bottom of the inning, with reliever Ryan Madson inheriting two runners from Kershaw before throwing a wild pitch of his own. He was able to strike out Martinez after walking Steve Pearce to load the bases with no outs, and he got a potentially inning-ending grounder from Xander Bogaerts. But Bogaerts beat out an uncomfortably close double-play relay throw to first to bring the go-ahead run home, and Rafael Devers followed with an RBI single to right to make it 5-3.
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Needless to say, any concern that Boston might have been rusty after five days off was addressed convincingly.
"From the first at-bat, we put pressure on them," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "And that's what we do. We stayed off the edges of the strike zone, we attacked pitches in the middle of the zone, and we did an outstanding job offensively."
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Manny Machado, who had an RBI single in the third and drove in a run on a groundout in the fifth, picked up his third RBI of the evening on a sacrifice fly in the seventh after the Dodgers loaded the bases against Ryan Brasier, making it a 5-4 game. But the combo of Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and Craig Kimbrel quieted L.A.'s bats from there. And Nunez's seventh-inning swat, after he had been sent to the plate in place of Devers with two aboard, all but sealed Game 1.
"I don't care about being a hero," Nunez said. "As long as we have the win, that's all that matters. We are here to win and lose together. Who cares who's the hero that night? As long as we have a hero, that's a good feeling because we have the win."
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The Red Sox have the win and a statistically significant edge. In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, teams that win Game 1 at home have gone on to take the series 61 of 93 times (66 percent). However, in this year's National League Championship Series, the Brewers beat the Dodgers in Game 1 in Milwaukee before Los Angeles ultimately advanced.
"Up and down the lineup, there isn't an easy out. We're going to grind out at-bats," Benintendi said. "We'll enjoy this one right now, but we've got to focus on tomorrow now."
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Tacos for all: Before scoring the first run of the game on Benintendi's single in the first, Mookie Betts stole a base and stole the heart of taco lovers everywhere. Betts' steal won everyone in America a free taco on Nov. 1 from 2-6 p.m. local time, thanks to the "Steal a Base, Steal a Taco presented by Taco Bell" promotion.
"I may go get me a taco because I haven't had Taco Bell in so long," Betts said. "I may go enjoy me one."
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Devers keeps delivering: Devers' insurance-adding RBI single in the seventh continued an impressive postseason for Boston's starting third baseman, who turned 22 today. Devers had already become the fifth player to hit three or more postseason home runs before his 22nd birthday (joining Mickey Mantle, Bryce Harper, Jose Cabrera and Andruw Jones). And when he grounded that single through the hole on the right side to bring home Bogaerts, he had notched an RBI in eight consecutive postseason starts, tying him with Lou Gehrig, Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard for the longest such streak in history.
"I have been working since Spring Training. I came prepared to help the team," Devers said in Spanish. "I'm happy because I helped the team, and that's what everyone here wants to do."
At 34 years, 30 days old, Kemp became the fourth-oldest player to homer in his first World Series at-bat. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the only players to do so who were older were Barry Bonds (38 years, 87 days in 2002), Bob Watson (35 years, 193 days in 1981) and Joe Harris (34 years, 140 days in 1925).
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Benintendi became just the fourth lefty hitter to record four hits off lefty pitchers in a World Series game, joining the Tigers' Claude Rossman (1907 Game 2), the Pirates' Dave Parker ('79 Game 1) and the Pirates' Willie Stargell ('79 Game 7).
"You've got to put an asterisk by a few of those. I got pretty lucky, but we'll take it," Benintendi said of his success against Kershaw. "We had a solid approach against him tonight, and for the most part, we executed what we were trying to do."
Of the previous nine times that the Red Sox have won Game 1 of the World Series, they have gone on to win the series six times, including each of the past three (1912, '16, '18, 2004, '07, '13). Of the previous 13 times that the Dodgers have lost Game 1 of the World Series, they have gone on to win the series four times (1955, '59, '65 and '81).
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
It would have been a very different third inning -- possibly a very different ballgame -- had Boston not successfully challenged a play at first. With Benintendi at first and one out, Pearce grounded to Machado, who initiated what was initially ruled an inning-ending double play. The Red Sox challenged the out call at first base, and upon review, first-base umpire Kerwin Danley's call was overturned. The next batter, Martinez, brought Pearce home with a double to give the Sox a 3-2 lead.