Alex Cora didn’t exactly inspire confidence with one of his decisions in Game 1 of the World Series, but as has often been the case this season, he proved the naysayers wrong.
With two runners on and Boston leading 5-4, the Red Sox manager pinch-hit Eduardo Nunez for Rafael Devers in the seventh inning. Considering Devers was 1-for-2 with a walk and was responsible for an RBI single earlier in the game, yanking him for a guy with less pop was a little perplexing.
But Nunez responded in a big way, landing a missile in the Green Monsters seats and putting the Red Sox ahead by the deciding margin, 8-4, with a three-run blast.
The dinger added, for the first time all game, a feeling of control for either team. And while putting Nunez in was a big gamble, it paid off.
After the game, Cora explained the rationale behind tabbing the infielder in that spot.
“We had a few matchups that we felt comfortable with,” Cora said, as seen on NESN’s postgame coverage. “(Andrew Benintendi) gets on, we have Mitch (Moreland) against (Pedro) Baez, then we have Nunie against (Alex) Wood. That’s something that we talked about today when he came in. Probably he was a little disappointed that he didn’t start because he’s been staring against every lefty. But we felt that Raffy was going to hang in there with (Clayton) Kershaw, and having him on the bench it was going to pay off.
“You’ve got to keep a righty, (Steve) Pearce is playing, Ian (Kinsler) was playing, so keeping him in the dugout and out of the lineup was probably going to give us a chance to win the game, and it worked out. He was prepared, he wasn’t upset actually that he wasn’t playing. I told him, ‘Be ready, man. You might have a big at-bat tonight and do your thing,’ and he did.”
Ever since taking the helm, Cora has hung his hat on making decisions with conviction and putting players in spots he thinks they can best succeed in, even if it may be head-scratching for those on the outside looking in.
The Red Sox now need just three more wins to win the World Series, and you can guarantee he’ll continue making those gutsy moves.
Here are some other notes from Red Sox-Dodgers Game 1:
— It was a big night for Andrew Benintendi, and he joined some exclusive company in the process.
The left fielder went 4-for-5 with a double, one RBI and three runs scored. The Red Sox early on established aggressiveness on the bases, and by Benintendi creating traffic, seldom could Kershaw or other Dodger pitchers focus exclusively on the batter.
With Benintendi’s offensive onslaught, he now is one of three players in Red Sox history with four hits in a World Series game. Jacoby Ellsbury did so in 2007, as did Wally Moses in 1946.
— Once Chris Sale was chased out of the game, the bullpen did a fine job locking things down.
Over five innings of work, five relievers combined to allow one run on three hits with one walk and five strikeouts.
Ryan Brasier was the only reliever to really wander himself into trouble, but Eduardo Rodriguez — who will be heavily relied on this series as a lefty specialist given the makeup of Los Angeles’ lineup — kept a one-run lead intact by getting the lone batter he faced to fly out after taking over for Brasier.
Joe Kelly, Nathan Eovaldi and Craig Kimbrel all pitched 1-2-3 innings, while Matt Barnes inherited a runner from Sale and got out of the fifth without allowing a run.
The bullpen had its issues all year, but it’s almost unprecedented how seemingly every reliever hit their stride in time for the postseason.
— Game 1 had the potential to be a real pitchers duel, but neither Sale nor Kershaw was overly dominant.
In Sale’s case, he allowed three runs on five hits with two walks and seven strikeouts over four-plus innings. He went out for the fifth, but was pulled after issuing a walk to begin the inning.
The southpaw threw 91 pitches, 54 of which landed for strikes. His fastball topped out at 96 mph, but it nestled around 93-94 mph regularly. Even though there was plenty of zip on his fastball, Sale’s slider was his best pitch, and his comfort in using it as an effective put-away pitch was a good sign for the Red Sox.
Although there were some issues with command, Sale mostly was happy with his showing.
“Good, really good,” Sale said. “Felt like I had some good stuff. Command was a little spotty, but you know it’s a battle. We’re in the World Series and we’re doing everything we can and it ended up being alright.”
Alex Cora agreed.
“That was good stuff today,” Cora said. “Stuff-wise probably the best in the postseason and he feels really good.”
The Sox manager even wrapped up his statement on Sale with a callback to the southpaw’s latest joke.
“No problems with the belly button, so that’s a plus. He’ll be OK for the next one.”