2018 World Series
By Larry Dierker
“The reason they call them second-guessers is it takes them two guesses to get one right.”—Tommy Lasorda
Sometimes it is useful to look back when you want to see how things developed. In 2017, the Red Sox lost the division series to the Astros three games to one. They thought they were better than that. So they fired manager John Farrell and replaced him with the Astros’ bench coach Alex Cora.
When the Astros beat the Yankees four games out of seven, they too thought they were the better team. They fired their manager Joe Girardi and hired Aaron Boone.
Tough way to make your managing debut either way.
The Astros beat the Dodgers in a seven-game World Series. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was widely criticized for the way he used his pitching staff, but he was not fired.
So Yogi Berra is still the only manager to get fired for losing the World Series.
Cora was drafted by the Dodgers out of the University of Miami. He was a leader on the field for a team that went to the finals of the College World Series twice.
With that, he played shortstop and second base for the Dodgers for seven years as a good-field/no-hit middle infielder. He also spent four years with the Red Sox where he was part of their 2007 World Championship team. Then Cora finished his career playing short stints with five other teams. By the time he retired, he had fourteen years of service and knew practically everyone in both leagues. He made an especially strong impression in Boston. The Sox hired him immediately after the Astros beat the Yankees in the playoffs. But they didn’t hold the press conference until October 18, his 43rd birthday.
Boone started his career with the Reds. He was a good fielder and hit with some power. However, he was traded to the Yankees in the middle of the 2003 season. He didn’t play any better in New York than he had in Cincinnati. But, he made the ultimate good impression by hitting a walk-off pennant-winning homer against the Red Sox that year. Aaron Boone had a good playing career but not as good as his brother Bret, his father Bob, or his grandfather Ray. In fact, his father also managed in the big leagues for six years.
Still, I think many GMs, whether they know it or not, picture prospective managers based on the way they’d look at the front of the dugout. By this criteria, the Yankees couldn’t have done any better. Boone, who was broadcasting for ESPN when the Yankees came calling, is ruggedly handsome. He looks much more like a leader than Alex Cora if there is such a thing as ‘looking like a leader’. Boone couldn’t have a better pedigree. And, of course, there is the pennant-winning home run.
I don’t think either team needed to change managers. Farrell and Girardi both had excellent managing records. But if they were going to do it anyway, I think the Red Sox made the better decision. That’s easy to say in retrospect. Boone’s Yankees had a fine year too.
The Cora of the Matter
Maybe the Sox just had the most talent. But they didn’t hire Cora for his looks or his pedigree.
The Red Sox didn’t have much trouble beating the Astros and Yankees. The won four of five with the Dodgers as well.
The Astros and Dodgers brought starting pitchers out of the bullpen liberally in the 2017 World Series. That trend continued this year. During the course of the five games, starters made 10 relief appearances.
In 2018 there were more strikeouts than hits in the major leagues for the first time. In this year’s World Series baseball, 109 batters fanned and only 76 got hits. The home run derby that was the 2017 World Series tailed off a bit in 2018. In seven games, the Astros and Dodgers hit 22 homers to set an all-time record. If the Red Sox and Dodgers had played seven games they may have matched it. As it was they hit 15 homers in five games.
Game one featured two most dominant pitchers in their respective leagues, Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw. Neither lasted five innings. Matt Kemp hit a homer off Sale in the second. Manny Machado did what little damage he would do in that first game plating three runners with a single an RBI grounder and a sacrifice fly. The turning point of the game came in the bottom of the seventh. Pedro Baez came out of the Dodgers bullpen with Andrew Benintendi on second, throwing 97 mph fastballs and a wicked change-up. He struck out Mitch Moreland, issued an intentional pass to J. D. Martinez, and then overpowered Xander Bogaerts.
Roberts Rules of Order?
I probably wouldn’t have walked Martinez. The best groundball pitchers only get one twin killing for every five chances. As a manager, I only walked a batter when I absolutely did not want to face him – never to get a double play. Barry Bonds a few times. Mike Piazza once or twice. Instead, I motioned to my catcher to pitch around the better hitters with a base open. If you throw them almost-strikes and walk them, so what. At least you give them a chance to get themselves out.
Martinez was the best hitter in the American League in 2018. And Baez is not a finesse pitcher. So I might have walked him. For most managers it’s automatic. But I’d be willing to bet that Tommy Lasorda and Bud Black didn’t walk a good hitter every time there was an open base. They were starting pitchers. Believe me, pitchers want to get out of trouble just as much as their skippers. They just may not want to do it in the same way. I hated to intentionally walk a batter.
I’m probably among the few that would even question the walk. With Bogaerts at first and Benintendi at second, Rafael Devers was due. Roberts took Baez out of the game. If I were in Alex Mora’s spikes I would be saying, “Thank you very much.”
It would be one thing if the Red Sox didn’t have a right-handed hitter who could replace Devers at third base, but they did. Alex Wood came into the game and Eduardo Nunez hit a pinch-hit three-run homer, icing the game. Sometimes I would make a similar move if I wanted the other team to pinch hit. But most of the time it didn’t work. In this case, with Baez looking unhittable, I would never have given Nunez a shot at Wood. It was a no-brainer.
So the Red Sox won game one, 8-5, the margin being the three-run homer.
In game two, David Price pitched against Hyun-Jin Ryu. Four starting pitchers, all lefthanded. Not too surprising at Fenway, but worth mentioning. Ryu gave up a run in the second and the Dodgers scored twice in the fourth, but Price struck out Austin Barnes with two men on to end the rally.
In the fifth, the Sox started the winning rally with two outs. A couple of singles and a walk brought Ryan Madson into the game. He walked Steve Pearce and J. D. Martinez touched him for a jam shot single. That made it 4-2 and that’s where it stayed. Neither manager did anything unusual except for Cora using Nathan Eovaldi out of the bullpen.
The Dodgers hopes were lifted by an 18-inning win two days later in L/ A. It took a toll on both pitching staffs. The Red Sox used nine pitchers, including Price for an inning and Eovaldi for six on one day’s rest. The Dodgers used nine as well, and Wood, also a starter, got the win when Max Muncy hit a walk-off homer. I stayed with it through 16 innings and didn’t notice anything in the strategy one way or the other.
But there were some records set like:
46 players — and
7 hours and twenty minutes.
Eovaldi threw 97 pitches out of the bullpen including the game-winning homer. The top four batters in the Red Sox lineup went 0-28.
It was one for the ages, like the Astros 13-12 win over the Dodgers in game five of the 2017 Fall Classic.
King of the Hill?
Last year, I was surprised when Roberts took Rich Hill out of two games for no apparent reason. I’m an Astros fan, so I was once again saying, “Thank you very much.”
In game two, the Astros led 1-0 on a George Springer home run. But that’s about the only ball they hit hard. Hill had them mesmerized with his curveball. He had seven strikeouts in four innings and he pitched a fit when Roberts sent Kenta Maeda to the hill in the fifth. Maeda pitched well, but the Astros eventually got to the Dodgers bullpen and won 7-6 in 11 innings.
In game six, Hill pitched 4.2 innings and gave up 4 hits and one run, striking out five. They still couldn’t hit his curveball. This time the Dodgers bullpen held and they won the game.
In game four, the Red Sox couldn’t hit Hill either. He worked 6.1 innings and gave up only one hit and one run while striking out seven. The Red Sox went right to work when Hill left the game and won 9-6.
In 2017 Hill went 12-8 and struck out more than a batter per inning. In 2018, he went 11-5 and had the strikeout pitch working again.
A lot of hitters can’t hit his curveball. Maybe he has a tender arm. That’s the only reason I can fathom for taking him out of games when he is dominating. You don’t have to throw 100 mph to dominate. Ask Greg Maddux. If the Dodgers don’t want him, I’ll take him in a heartbeat, tender arm and all.
After the Red Sox won 108 games during the regular season, the Dodgers, who won 81 with a late surge, were much better at the end of the season than at the start. The Red Sox started 17-2. They beat the Rockies in a one-game playoff. Then beat the Braves and Brewers. But it was the Red Sox’ year, plain and simple.
The Price is Right
Steve Pearce hit his second home run of the World Series, a two-run shot off Clayton Kershaw in the first inning of game five and the Red Sox never looked back. Pearce hit another home run in the eighth and became one of a long list of journeymen players to capture the MVP award.
That honor could have gone to David Price who pitched seven innings and gave up just one run to get the 5-1 clinching win. He pitched two-thirds of an inning in relief in the 18-inning game on a day’s rest after winning game two in Boston. In a five-game span, he pitched three times for a total of 12.2 innings. Not quite what Giants’ lefty Madison Bumgarner did when he won the MVP against the Royals in 2014, but close.
So far, no ax has fallen. But there may be other second-guessers out there who also hold the purse strings. (I should check this. I have a nagging feeling, but no clear memory.)
A Final Note. The Red Sox took care of business. Their body language showed professionalism, what was once known as class.
The Dodgers, on the other hand did not. There were several occasions when Machado didn’t hustle. Someone will pay him a gazillion dollars anyway. And Puig, he’s enough to turn your stomach. He acts as if the whole production is staged for him alone. There was a day when he would have eaten some dirt for his histrionics. The Red Sox were smart. They ignored it. Why take a chance on waking the rest of the team up?