The Dodgers were not mashing the baseball, they were not lifting blasts over the Green Monster or hooking liners around Pesky’s Pole, but they were breathing in the fourth inning at Fenway Park on Wednesday night anyway. Instead, the National League’s home run leaders were relentlessly pecking at Boston Red Sox left-hander David Price. He was reeling. The pressure was on.
The sustained surge began with a couple of singles. A walk, a sacrifice fly and a two-out bloop single followed to produce two runs and the Dodgers’ first lead of the World Series.
Then the offense croaked in the chill. The Dodgers didn’t generate a baserunner after Yasiel’s Puig floated a two-out RBI single to center field to give them a 2-1 edge. Price retired the final seven batters he faced, continuing his dismissal of the playoff terrors that had haunted him for so many Octobers before this one. Joe Kelly and Nathan Eovaldi, each featuring 100-mph fastballs, tossed clean innings. Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth and completed Boston’s 16-batter cruise through the Dodgers lineup in a 4-2 win.
The Dodgers mustered three hits and three walks in all. They trail 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
“I thought the compete was there,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “You’ve got to give credit to Price. He made pitches when he needed to. We had him on the ropes. I thought that early on 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.”
The Red Sox, meanwhile, conducted another clinic on situational hitting. They scored each of their runs with two outs, including a three-run barrage in the fifth inning that began with chasing Hyun-Jin Ryu before they punished Ryan Madson. Boston has scored 36 of their 68 runs in the playoffs with two outs.
“Big-league ABs, professional at-bats, always trying to hit the inside part of the ball, not trying to do too much,” Dodgers first baseman David Freese said. “One after another they’re working. Just got to be unpredictable with a lineup like that. Stay out of the middle and even if you stay out of the middle they’re going to find ways to drive the ball or just move the chain.”
The Dodgers used the same lineup Wednesday as they used in Game 1, an all-right-handed configuration to maximize their chances against the left-handed Price before pinch-hitting in spots throughout the game as Roberts sees fit. It’s the platoon strategy they’ve used since the start of September. Against the Milwaukee Brewers and their aggressive bullpen use, the substitutions frequently came early. But the Red Sox opt for more conventional pitching methods and Price’s six-inning effort meant the four-man left-handed-hitting bench cavalry — the Dodgers’ top four home run hitters during the regular season — emerged late.
Max Muncy and Yasmani Grandal took their pinch-hit hacks in the seventh inning against the right-handed Kelly. Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson gave it a try in the eighth against the right-handed Eovaldi. The optimized matchups didn’t change the equation. Muncy and Grandal struck out. So did Bellinger. Pederson flied out.
“There’s just nasty pitching left and right,” Freese said. “You got to find a way to scratch and claw and get it done.”
Kimbrel was an unsteady presence in the first two rounds, allowing runs in each of his first four postseason appearances, but he appears to have alleviated his struggles. The Red Sox believed he was tipping pitches, addressed it, and he hasn’t surrendered a run in three outings since. On Wednesday, Kimbrel got Manny Machado to fly out before Chris Taylor and Matt Kemp grounded out to end the game.
He needed nine pitches to shift the series across the country with the Dodgers facing a perilous deficit going back home to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Friday.