So this is what this World Series will be like.
Brief starts. An assembly line of relievers. Plenty of runs. Games that feel as if they never end.
This is baseball in 2018, and the Boston Red Sox and Dodgers are two of the best practitioners of the latest version of the sport.
They feature two well-stocked lineups and not a single starting pitcher who can be counted on to produce anything resembling a dominant performance.
The kind of game that was played Tuesday in the 8-4 victory for the Red Sox is the kind of game that will be played again this Series. And again. And again.
As much as Los Angeles probably bemoaned Clayton Kershaw’s latest October failure in the Game 1 loss by the Dodgers, the reality was the outcome was somewhat predictable.
He has pitched spectacularly or dreadfully this postseason, with nothing in between.
Kershaw was the pitcher of record in the defeat, charged with five runs and seven hits over four innings.
He wasn’t pitching an afternoon game in Dodger Stadium, in which the sunlight and shadows obscure the baseballs he releases from his left hand. He was pitching a night game in Fenway Park and had to do so with a fastball he couldn’t locate and a slider that lacked depth.
What transpired wasn’t a continuation of Kershaw’s difficulties in the postseason. The performance was a function of who Kershaw is now, a smart, crafty and brave pitcher who doesn’t have the overwhelming weapons necessary to avoid punishment when he makes mistakes.
“Slider wasn’t very good tonight,” Kershaw said. “Kind of flat, in the zone and they made me pay for it.”
The Red Sox wouldn’t chase pitches out of the zone the way the Atlanta Braves or the Milwaukee Brewers did in his two best starts this month.
The Dodgers defense magnified the problem. Kershaw’s second pitch of the game was popped up in foul territory by Mookie Betts, but first baseman David Freese failed to catch it. Betts ended his at-bat with a single, then stole second base, allowing him to score on a single to right field by Andrew Benintendi. Because Yasiel Puig threw the baseball to the plate instead of second base, Benintendi was able to take an extra base on the play. And that positioned him to score the Red Sox’s second run when J.D. Martinez singled to right field.
“I thought we left some outs out there,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Martinez again delivered a significant blow in the third inning with a double to straightaway center field to drive in Steve Pearce.
Kershaw started the fifth inning by walking Betts. He followed that up by giving up an opposite-field single to the left-handed-hitting Benintendi.
There was a time when the Dodgers would have trusted Kershaw to pitch his way out of trouble, but that time exists only in memories. Roberts moved immediately to replace Kershaw.
Pearce was coming up with two on and no outs, and the Dodgers were looking for a strikeout. The manager figured the Dodgers would have a better chance of doing that with Ryan Madson than with Kershaw.
“I wasn’t pitching well enough to make a case the other way,” Kershaw said.
Madson allowed both of the inherited runners to score.
But here’s the strange part: As disappointed as Kershaw was by his performance, the Dodgers still had a chance to win.
The Red Sox starter, Chris Sale, also failed to record an out in the fifth inning.
The Dodgers ran up Sale’s pitch count, which was at 51 after two innings and 72 after three.
Matt Kemp blasted a solo home run over the Green Monster in the second inning. Manny Machado singled in a run in the third. Machado drove in another run in the fifth inning after Sale departed from the game, as his groundout against Matt Barnes allowed Brian Dozier to score.
“Obviously, we made Sale work today to get him out of there as soon as possible and get to the bullpen,” Machado said. “Kershaw, they got the top of the lineup bats to him. It’s one of those things. They’re good, but the hitters are good as well.”
And even after the Red Sox’s two-run fifth inning that increased the home team’s advantage to 5-3, the Dodgers still had a chance.
With Ryan Brasier on the mound, the Dodgers loaded the bases with only one out. They settled for only one run, which scored on a sacrifice fly by Machado. Cody Bellinger flied out to center field to end the inning.
By the time the 3-hour 52-minute marathon was complete, the teams used a combined 12 pitchers. Red Sox manager Alex Cora made six pitching changes.
Game 2 could unfold similarly. Red Sox starter David Price makes Kershaw look like an October legend by comparison, as Price didn’t win his first career postseason start until Game 5 of the American League Championship Series this year. The start was his 12th in the playoffs.
The Dodgers will counter with Hyun-Jin Ryu, who pitched a combined 71/3 innings in his two starts in the National League Championship Series.
The Red Sox were No. 1 in the major leagues in runs and batting average. The Dodgers topped the NL in runs and home runs.
“I just know they have a good lineup and good guys on the bench and we have a good lineup with good guys on the bench,” Kemp said.