Best team wins: Red Sox claim 2018 World Series

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – The Boston Red Sox completed one of the greatest seasons in baseball history Sunday night, dispatching the Los Angeles Dodgers in the same fashion they did the Houston Astros, New York Yankees and all comers in 2018. The Red Sox’s 108-win season was merely a prelude to their running roughshod through the postseason, a trek capped with a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers and a World Series championship.

Game 5 followed the same script as so many Red Sox games this year: lots of home runs, stellar defense and superior pitching. With David Price having the start of his career, World Series MVP Steve Pearce the game of his life and rookie manager Alex Cora a dream season, the Red Sox juggernaut made mincemeat of the Dodgers. Boston went 108-54 in the regular season and was even better in October, winning 11 of 14 games.

Gone is the pall of misery that hung over the Red Sox for 86 championship-free seasons. First came the glory of 2004. Then the sequel in 2007. Most of that team was gone by the time they won again in 2013. And that entire group, save for a pair of rookies, is gone from the 25-man group that won Sunday.

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Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ misery only grew. Six consecutive division titles haven’t led to a single ring. Two straight losses in the World Series make the sting harsher. It also could conceivably be the last start as a Dodger for Clayton Kershaw, who can opt out of the final two years and $65 million of his contract in the next 72 hours. If this was his last start for the Dodgers, it was far from storybook.

Christian Vazquez jumps into the arms of Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox to celebrate their 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Five to win the 2018 World Series. (Getty)
Christian Vazquez jumps into the arms of Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox to celebrate their 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Five to win the 2018 World Series. (Getty)

As 54,367 packed Dodger Stadium hoping for a vintage Kershaw performance, they instead were treated to a first inning that didn’t exactly portend well for the rest of the night. Pearce, who hit a game-tying home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 and salted away the game with a bases-clearing double an inning later, launched a two-run homer to left field and staked Price a 2-0 lead. David Freese responded with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first. And it was all Los Angeles would muster.

Price turned in perhaps the pitching performance of the postseason, going seven strong innings. His usage leading up to Game 5 was emblematic of Cora’s tack during October: Pitchers are neither defined nor confined by traditional roles. They exist to get outs, and if that means using them in a scattershot fashion – Price started and won Game 2, got a pair of relief outs in Game 3 two days later and was back on the mound on extra-short rest for Game 5 – then they were onboard.

Cora’s ability to take a clubhouse that had grown slightly fractious and turn it into a well-oiled, 108-win machine is one of the great baseball stories of 2018. The vise of Boston never squeezed him too hard. The steely glare of ownership never singed him. Cora went from champion with Houston as bench coach in 2017 to his own, with pictures to signify every win hanging in his office, in 2018.

The photos featured triumphant moments from the season, with a roster full of contributors. One through 25, the Red Sox were the most talented team all season, though the two players best among them finally showed up in Game 5 after a quiet first four games. Mookie Betts, the future American League MVP, and J.D. Martinez, who won’t finish far behind him, got to Kershaw after he had cruised following the first.

With one out in the sixth, Betts tattooed a home run into the left-field stands on an 89-mph slider from Kershaw. Martinez led off the seventh inning by taking a 90-mph Kershaw fastball over the center-field wall. The pair of home runs swelled the lead from one runs to three, and it was yet another bitter disappointment for Kershaw, the best regular-season pitcher of his generation and again a postseason letdown. His career playoff record dropped to 9-10 and his ERA swelled to 4.32, nearly two runs higher than in the regular season.

Boston Red Sox first baseman Steve Pearce celebrates the first of his two home runs in World Series Game 5. (AP)
Boston Red Sox first baseman Steve Pearce celebrates the first of his two home runs in World Series Game 5. (AP)

When Kershaw gave way to reliever Pedro Baez, it didn’t stop Boston. Pearce hit his second home run of the night, becoming the first player with a two-homer game in a World Series clincher since Kirk Gibson with Detroit in 1984.

Price ceded to reliever Joe Kelly after Chris Taylor drew a leadoff walk in the eighth, and Kelly – just one part of an incredible Boston bullpen that exceeded even its own expectations in October – struck out the side. In to finish the game came Chris Sale, whose arrival in Boston before the 2017 season cemented the Red Sox’s arrival as a new power.

General manager Dave Dombrowski, the architect of a Florida Marlins championship, had come to Boston in 2015 with a strict mandate: Win a World Series. Or multiple. If that meant trading a cache of prospects, as he did for Sale, so be it. Sale has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, and after pushing his start from Game 5 to a potential Game 6, Cora inserted him in the ninth.

Sale struck out Justin Turner to start the inning. Kiké Hernández waved, almost sadly, through a third-strike slider. And fittingly, Manny Machado, who had spoken so ill of the Red Sox throughout the years, finished the parade of six consecutive strikeouts as he nearly fell down swinging at a Sale slider.

It ended a season – and postseason – of near-perfection for the Red Sox. All the two-out hits. All the damage done. All the early strikes and late comebacks. All in service of what happened Sunday: the 119th win of the season, the ninth championship in franchise history and the reminder that despite decades of pain leading up to it, the Boston Red Sox have unquestionably been the franchise of the 21st century.

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