There were nine innings of baseball tonight, but Game 2 of the 2018 World Series was decided in the fifth.
The top of the fifth didn’t matter all that much, really. The Dodgers went down 1-2-3. But before we get into the consequential bottom half of it, can we take a moment to appreciate just how dang pretty Andrew Benintendi‘s catch of Brian Dozier‘s fly to left field really was?
Cue up the Tchaikovsky and get a load of this:
The Red Sox outfield defense is ridiculously good. So good it makes me wonder if they may not just bench J.D. Martinez for the games in Los Angeles and let him pinch-hit here and there rather than break up this group. If you made me decide right now, that’s what I’d do.
OK, now let’s get into the part of the fifth that decided this game.
The bottom half started so promisingly for Los Angeles. For one thing, they held a 2-1 lead. For another Hyun-Jin Ryu was still on the mound and looked to be cruising along quite nicely. Indeed, he needed only three pitches to get the first two Red Sox out and then went 0-2 on Christian Vazquez. He was only five pitches into the inning and he was a strike away from getting out of it.
It would take 25 more pitches from two pitchers to get that final out and by the time they did, Boston had turned a one-run deficit into a two-run lead they’d never relinquish.
Ryu, it turned out, was out of gas. He gave up a single to Vazquez, a single to Mookie Betts and then he’d walk Andrew Benintendi to load the bases. That led Dave Roberts to call on Ryan Madson. It was the second straight night he went to Madson as the first man out of the pen. In Game 1, we learned later, Madson wasn’t even fully warmed up when he relieved Clayton Kershaw. He’d bounce a pitch into the dirt, walk a batter and then allow two inherited runners to score, the second one proving, eventually, to be the one which gave Boston the winning margin.
Things weren’t much better on this night.
Madson walked the first batter he faced, Steven Pearce, on five pitches, forcing in a run. It really should’ve been just four pitches, as the strike that was called on Pearce was nowhere near the plate. The walk tied the game at two. Madson would throw ball one to the next hitter, J.D. Martinez, before trying to get a get-me-over pitch passed him. That didn’t work and Martinez drove in the Sox’ third and fourth run of the game with a single to right. OK, maybe he should play in Los Angeles. Don’t ask me how. That’s Alex Cora’s job to figure out before Game 3.
After this game it will be Dave Roberts’ job to answer questions, and a lot of those questions are likely to be about the choices he made in the fifth inning. I don’t know if he has any great answers, really. All I know for sure is that, if he was going to pull Hyun-Jin Ryu with two outs in the fifth — and I’d say Roberts probably had to, given that he seemed to be flaming out — maybe he needed to replace him with someone who isn’t Ryan Madson. The same Ryan Madson who wasn’t ready the night before. The same Ryan Madson who, before Game 2, said this about the cold weather in Fenway Park:
“Grip is essential obviously in a breaking ball. And a lot of times with the cold weather, I’m not saying anybody uses anything, but if you use anything, a lot of times it’s not as effective in cold weather.”
Madson is also on record describing facing J.D. Martinez as “being in a pit with a rattlesnake.” Madson wasn’t physically ready for Game 1. Given these quotes, part of me wonders if he wasn’t mentally ready for Game 2. A bigger part of me wonders if maybe Pedro Baez wasn’t sweating this sort of stuff earlier this afternoon and if, unlike Madson, Baez would not have allowed all five of the runners he’s inherited in the first two games of this series to score.
All I know for sure is that Dave Roberts is catching a lot of hell so far some moves he’s made or hasn’t made in this series. As I wrote last night, he wouldn’t have been if the guys he called on had simply executed. For two straight nights, however, Madson was called on to put out a fire in the fifth inning. For the second straight night he failed to do so. It makes one wonder if, perhaps, he should not have been called on at all.