Dodgers in desperation mode as World Series shifts to L.A.
LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers, in desperation mode as the World Series shifts to their ballpark, don’t need to look very far for comfort as they face a 2-0 deficit. They can get it from their manager, Dave Roberts, whose celebrated stolen base sparked a 2004 Boston Red Sox team that became the first — and still the only — baseball team to climb out of a 3-0 hole to win a seven-game series. They can get it from their Game 3 starter, Walker Buehler, who helped deliver victories in the two instances when the Dodgers most desperately needed them.
In the one-game National League West tiebreaker on the first day of October, Buehler held the Colorado Rockies scoreless through 6⅔ innings to seal the franchise’s sixth consecutive division title.
In Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, Buehler held the Milwaukee Brewers to one run in 4⅔ innings to help send the Dodgers to the World Series for a second straight year.
“Any time you’re in situations like that — the more that you can get there and live it yourself, I think, does nothing but help you,” said Buehler, who will oppose Rick Porcello of the Red Sox at Dodger Stadium on Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 8:09 p.m. ET. “It’s a little bit different than a Game 7 tomorrow, but at the same time, there’s a little bit of a backs-against-the-wall type of scenario.”
It isn’t just the daunting scenario — with a loss, the Dodgers will fall behind 3-0, forcing themselves to win four in a row — it’s the overwhelming opponent.
The 2018 Red Sox stand as one of the most impressive teams in baseball history. They finished the regular season with 108 wins and a plus-229 run differential, then rolled through the 100-win New York Yankees and the defending champion Houston Astros in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Their lineup is deep and loaded with a rare combination of power, discipline and speed. Their rotation features two decorated lefties at the top, putting the Dodgers at their most vulnerable. And their bullpen looks fierce, with Joe Kelly frequently throwing in triple digits, Craig Kimbrel looking right again and starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi helping in a setup role.
To win this series, and thus claim their first championship in 30 years, the Dodgers need to win four of five over the Red Sox.
The Red Sox lost four times in five games only once all season.
“It’s going to be hard,” Cody Bellinger said. “But this was going to be hard regardless.”
Roberts knows a little about the momentum the current Red Sox are riding. After his Red Sox of 14 years ago rallied to beat the Yankees four consecutive times in the American League Championship Series, they steamrolled their way through the St. Louis Cardinals with a World Series sweep.
“It didn’t really matter who we were playing, where we were playing,” Roberts recalled. “We were just all kind of synced up.”
But his Red Sox might have been on a different level, Roberts suggested. They got production up and down the lineup, whereas the current Red Sox have benefited primarily from timely hitting, most of it with two outs.
The Dodgers can glean confidence from knowing they had their chances in Fenway Park. They forced Chris Sale to expend 86 pitches through the first four innings in Game 1, but they finished only 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. In Game 2, five of their nine hitters reached base the second time through the order against David Price, but they finished the game in an 0-for-16 rut.
If the Dodgers could have limited the mistakes, and perhaps if Max Muncy would have had a few more chances, this might be a different series altogether.
But all that matters is what lies ahead.
Roberts will draw from experience to preach the importance of staying in the present.
“You can’t win four games in one night,” he said. “So just focus on a one-game-at-a-time mentality. I know it’s easier said than done, but that’s as simply as you can put it, and that’s the best way to go about it. And I know that’s echoed in our clubhouse.”
The Dodgers hope to benefit from the energy of their fans and the warm climate of their city. They also will roll out their best lineup. Porcello throws right-handed, which means the left-handed-hitting Joc Pederson will bat leadoff and the left-handed-hitting Bellinger and Muncy will hit somewhere in the middle of the order.
And the Red Sox will be weakened. They likely will sacrifice some outfield defense by sitting Gold Glove-caliber center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Or they could be without big hitter J.D. Martinez, who will shift from designated hitter to the outfield, unless he’s still bothered by an ankle injury he suffered in Game 1.
“He’ll get treatment tomorrow morning,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Thursday of Martinez. “In the afternoon, we’ll make a decision.”
The Dodgers have forged a weird habit of playing at their best when they’ve really needed to this season. They began 16-26, but roared all the way back into contention. They went 3-9 in the middle of August, then won eight of their next nine to keep their playoff hopes alive. They won their final four regular-season games, including Game 163, to win the division, then won Game 7 of the NLCS on the road.
“I wouldn’t say that we intentionally do that,” Buehler said. “But I would say that there’s a comfort level in that we have done that a lot of times this season, obviously, and rebounded and gotten to this point. I don’t think anyone wants to be there, but I think of the 30 teams that could be in a situation like that, we probably know how to handle it in the top echelon.”
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