BOSTON – Not everything requires context. It’s possible to line a field and play ball, to have it no bigger, no grander, than that.
To distill it to a chilly Tuesday night, the usual game, the usual expectation, the usual methodology, which is, plainly, to win a baseball game by any means possible.
The way they did 108 times, then seven more to get here, when the Boston Red Sox asked themselves for nothing bigger, nothing grander, than more of the same, more of the same, more of the same.
The people can call it whatever they want. The World Series, sure. Their destiny, OK. A birthright, suddenly, and enjoy that. When they chant, “Yankees suck!”, and there is still plenty of game to play, you are beat. They don’t even see you anymore.
When you search for a reason why and there is a hundred of them, when it feels like a game and then it is long gone, when their ace goes four and it’s a butt-kicking anyway, then it can only be the Red Sox. Ask the Houston Astros. Ask the Cleveland Indians. Ask the New York Yankees.
What is left is the Los Angeles Dodgers, champions of the National League, a capable and not inexpensive machine with borrowed parts everywhere and a plan to make them fit. Make them work. Make the other guy work. It got them here. It might still take them further.
So they take their first shot and discover it’s not nearly good enough. Against the Red Sox, their A-game might not be good enough. Let a foul ball drop, miss a cutoff man, throw a hittable two-strike pitch or two, miss by a couple inches on the back end of a double play, those tiny gaps become what echoes through the Back Bay: “Yankees suck!” Like you’re not even relevant anymore. Not tonight.
Then the manager, the stubbornly optimistic man with the sad eyes who knows what this place feels like when it gets rolling downhill, who once gave it a little nudge himself, sighs and recounts how a reasonable game becomes an 8-4 pop in the mouth:
“I don’t think he had the fastball command that he typically does, missing up in the zone,” Dave Roberts said of Clayton Kershaw. “I don’t think his slider had the depth that we’re used to seeing.”
“We didn’t play the defense that we typically do,” he said. “I thought we left some outs out there.”
“J.D. [Martinez] got a pitch with two outs, mistake, backdoor cutter that got too much of the plate,” he said.
“Then the [Rafael] Devers ball with two outs,” he said.
And that’s plenty. By at least two ands.
In five innings, the Red Sox put 10 runners on base against Kershaw. J.D. Martinez drove in a run in the first inning with two out. He drove in another in the third with two out. Devers beat Ryan Madson in the fifth with two out, a single that brought home the last of five runs against Kershaw. The prettiest runs will be Eduardo Núñez’s, the three he drove in with a pinch-hit home run against Alex Wood in the seventh, the three that reminded folks that Eduardo Núñez was in the ballpark. What stung the Dodgers was that while the Red Sox were outpitching them, out-defending them, out-thinking them, they also were out-working them. That swing was preceded by more men on base, more headaches, more pitching changes. And, also, by two outs. Six Red Sox runs scored when one pitch or one play or one decision would have ended an inning, and instead the Red Sox barged deeper into the place where they win, have always won, context be damned.
Núñez was asked, after the past few weeks, if Tuesday night were different because it carried a title, World Series, Game 1, fight or flight.
“No, no, definitely no,” Núñez said. “I think we have the mind, we play cards, we play around, took BP inside. I think everybody is chillin’. Everybody stayed the same. We don’t make any more pressure for ourselves. I think it’s a normal game.”
The winner always says that, of course. The loser will, too, only with less audacity. Just a game. A game for which the Prudential building over the right-field foul pole screams, “GO SOX.” A game that changes nothing except two aces, neither awfully ace-like, will likely sit for four days. A game they played seven months to play. A game that maybe seemed more familiar to the Red Sox than the Dodgers, though it is a big-boy game over here, as it turned out. A game that will be forgotten on Wednesday, when again they will line a field and play ball.
Nothing bigger, nothing grander, than that. The Red Sox win a lot of those games. Most of them, even. And if you must go looking for the one reason they do, and instead find a bunch of reasons, well, that’s why they’re them. And, in a crowded ballpark, why, for the moment, you’re you.
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