One of the inevitabilities of playoff baseball seems to be that a player who nobody expects will emerge as a hero. While plenty of Red Sox batters could lay claim to being a big reason behind Boston’s offensive success in 2018, only one could say he delivered the dagger in Game 1 of the World Series—and few could have predicted his success on a cold night at Fenway Park.
In a game started by Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw that included a few surprises, the Red Sox led 5-4 with two outs in the seventh inning. The biggest surprise arose when the man of the hour came to bat with runners at first and second. Eduardo Nunez finished the regular season with a .236 True Average, an Isolated Power number of .123 and a 78 wRC+. Not to mention even weaker power numbers against left-handed pitching. Simply put, there was no reason to expect Nunez to deliver the dagger in by clearing the Green Monster with a three-run homer, right? Right?
There you have it. In the blink of an eye, a questionable decision by Red Sox manager Alex Cora to use this particular player in a pinch-hit situation against left-hander Alex Wood ended up making the manager look like a genius, and Nunez became yet another “random” name who stepped up big in the playoffs.
Predicting that Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez would play a big role wouldn’t be a stretch and, sure enough, they wasted no time getting to Kershaw and the Dodgers defense. The Red Sox scored twice in the first inning after Kershaw had allowed just five earned runs all year in the first.
It was time for the Dodgers to figure out a way to get out of an early hole. The first unpredictable moment occurred when the first home run of the Series came off the bat of Matt Kemp. After the season that he’s had, it wasn’t a major shock to see him go deep — even if it came at Sale’s expense. However, it’s safe to say that no Dodgers fan would have predicted back in February that a return to the World Series would include a Matt Kemp home run. Again, this sport routinely shocks us.
After Manny Machado tied it up 2-all with an RBI grounder in the third inning, the Dodgers and Red Sox exchanged blows in the middle of the ring. Martinez threw a cross in the form of an RBI double.
Machado countered undeterred with a body blow RBI grounder before Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers delivered jabs in the fifth inning to give the Red Sox some breathing room.
Even with the offensive onslaught by Boston, Machado again bounced off the ropes and delivered a sacrifice fly to bring the Dodgers within 5-4. They got no closer, thanks to Nunez, whose shot put the Red Sox out of reach in a Game 1 victory.
In a way, conditions were the exact opposite of what happened a year ago at Dodger Stadium, when temperatures rose above 100 degrees. Instead of being played in a scorching-hot cauldron — and as quickly as possible while ending with a Dodgers victory against the AL champs — this was a cold, dreary and long affair that ended with the Dodgers losing. It’s hard to predict this stuff.
There’s still plenty of baseball left to be played, but it would be understandable if you’re already looking through each roster, trying to figure out who the Series’ next unpredictable star will be.
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