Associated Press

Little things killed Dodgers in Game 1

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There’s an old proverb that explains how a very small thing can lead to a big, loss. It goes like this:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost,
for want of a horse the knight was lost,
for want of a knight the battle was lost,
for want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
So a kingdom was lost . . . all for want of a nail.

The Dodgers did not lose it all tonight — they still have as many of six battles left to save the kingdom — but a series of very small things caused them to lose the battle that was Game 1 of the 2018 World Series.

Sure, You can look at the box score here, see that the Red Sox won 8-4 in a game which was broken wide open with a three-run homer and say that Boston’s win was a definitive one. And, to be clear, it was a definitive one in every way that mattered. The Red Sox beat Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, won by four and now lead the series 1-0.

But if you wanted to, you could look at Game 1 in a slightly different way and see how some very, very small things caused this one to get away from the Dodgers. Small things that, but for a couple of inches here or there and a bit more concentration on their part, could’ve broken differently and could’ve led to a very different outcome.

For example, one could look at the first inning, when the Red Sox took a 2-0 lead and wonder what might’ve happened if David Freese had caught the foul ball off of Mookie Betts‘ bat that, somehow, eluded him despite it remaining well within play. Instead, it kept Betts alive, allowed him to reach base, allowed him to steal second and, eventually, allowed him to score on Andrew Benintendi‘s single to make it a 1-0 game.

One can also ask what might’ve happened if Yasiel Puig had not made an ill-advised throw home on Benintendi’s hit, allowing Benintendi to take second. If Puig had simply thought for half a second, realized he had no shot at Betts and hit the cutoff man, Benintendi stays at first and does not score on J.D. Martinez‘s single. A small thing — a matter of execution that all outfielders work on from the first day of spring training — but a thing which Puig just neglected to do properly. Put those together and one missed foul ball and one brain lock turned what could’ve been a zero run first inning into a two-run first inning for the Red Sox.

One could also look at the bottom of the third inning when, with one on and one out Steven Pearce hit into what was initially called an inning-ending double play. Replay review got the call right — Pearce beat the throw to first — but there were just a few inches separating the would-be twin-killing from the was-actually fielder’s choice which kept the inning alive. A long J.D. Martinez double to the triangle in left-center gave the Red Sox their third run of the game and their third run that, had the Dodgers executed more crisply and if an inch or two was gained here or there, would not have scored.

One could look at the top of the fifth, when the Dodgers put two runners on, chasing Chris Sale from the game and bringing in Matt Barnes. Freese came up at that point, a righty facing a righty. Throughout the playoffs, Dave Roberts would pinch hit Max Muncy for Freese in this situation but, for whatever reason, Roberts let Freese hit. He promptly struck out. Later, in the seventh, Muncy would pinch hit when a righty was called in and he would smack a solid single to right-center. If he had been in and done that in the fifth, would the Dodgers have scored more than the one run they actually scored that inning? Dave Roberts will be asking himself that one for a while, I presume.

One could look at the bottom of the fifth, when Ryan Madson came in in relief of Clayton Kershaw. Madson would load the bases, but then strike J.D. Martinez out on three pitches before inducing a grounder to short from Xander Bogaerts. 6 . . 4 . . . nope, just a bit slow once again. Instead of an inning-ending double play which would’ve left things tied at three entering the sixth, Mookie Betts scored and then Andrew Benintendi would score on a Rafael Devers single to make it a 5-3 game. Two more runners that, but for mere inches, would not have crossed home plate.

That takes us to the bottom of the seventh, which featured Eduardo Nunez‘s big pinch-hit three-run homer. Is it even worth noting at this point that the inning began with Joc Pederson, substituted into the game the previous inning, just barely missing a fly ball down the left field line that went as a double but just as easily could’ve been caught? Is it worth noting  that Nunez’s homer came with two outs and that, had Perderson made that catch, he wouldn’t have even come to bat that inning? Even if you don’t assume that, let the record reflect that it could’ve been a two-run shot instead of a three-run shot.

The Red Sox won this game by four runs, but mere inches gave them three or four of those runs. A couple of mental mistakes by the Dodgers gave them at least another and, perhaps, cost the Dodgers a run or two of their own.

None of which is to take a thing away from the Red Sox. One cannot assume that which did not happen would, in fact, happen, and many plays in baseball are decided by mere inches. This exercise was not aimed at discounting the Red Sox’ victory. They hit Clayton Kershaw pretty hard, managed clutch hits on numerous occasions and executed on both offense and defense while getting some dominating relief work in a game that could’ve very easily gotten away from them early thanks to a less-than-sharp Chris Sale. They won this game and won it convincingly.

But the Dodgers had their chances. They had their chances and they blew them, all for want of a nail, as it were. And that had to make them feel pretty dang bad as they left the field tonight.

Mariners agree to a six-year contract with prospect Evan White

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This is a rare one: the Mariners have signed first base prospect Evan White — a player who has yet to play a game above Double-A — to a six-year, $24 million contract. The deal has three club options as well that, if exercised, could make it max out at $55.5 million over nine years.

White was the M’s first round pick in the 2017 draft, going 17th overall out of the University of Kentucky. In 2019 he played at Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League, hitting .293/.350/.488 with 18 home runs, striking out 92 times and walking 29 times in 92 games. It’s a good line in a league that is pretty pitcher-friendly. Stuart also reportedly plays excellent defense at first base.

Clearly the Mariners consider White a part of their future, but unless White flames out early in his career, he’s leaving a lot of potential money on the table.

White turns 24 early next season, which means that, even if he begins the 2020 season in the majors, starting his major league service time clock on Opening Day, he wouldn’t reach free agency until he’s poised to begin his age-33 season, assuming the Mariners exercise those options. If the Mariners place him in Triple A for anything beyond a couple of weeks to start next season, that changes to his age-34 season. A full year of Triple-A action and even some modest service time manipulation by the M’s in 2021 would put it off even longer.

At the same time, a team is unlikely to want to pay a guy millions to toil in the minors — and the M’s are guaranteeing themselves as many as nine years of White’s services — so the threat of service time manipulation is greatly reduced. Which means that, if he hits, he plays. Of course, if he hits well and continues to do so, the Mariners will have a considerable bargain on their hands, with a potential franchise cornerstone locked up at an average of $6 million and change a year for nearly a decade.

As we’ve noted so often when discussing extensions with young players, that’s the tradeoff. After today, White could hit like Mario Mendoza, field like Dick Stuart and be drummed out of baseball before he’s 30 and, assuming he’s even moderately sensible, still have enough money to set himself up for life. If he turns into a real star he’ll make less than half of what he’s worth in his career. His alternative: wait at least four years and maybe five to reach arbitration and three more after that until he can be a free agent. Assuming arbitration and free agency exist after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2021.

So, let’s check back in a few years before passing ultimate judgment.