The strike zone was tight, and the lineups shrewdly constructed. A lot of poorly struck balls found holes and neither starter was particularly sharp, either. And so the pitcher's duel that Game 1 of the World Series was supposed to be - pitting the greatest pitcher of his generation against, perhaps, the game's top starter right now - didn't go down like that.
Instead, the highly anticipated clash between Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw showcased, as so many games have this postseason, that it's virtually impossible to beat these Boston Red Sox when you make mistakes. And the Los Angeles Dodgers made plenty Tuesday evening at Fenway Park en route to an 8-4 loss and an early deficit in the best-of-seven showdown. Virtually everyone was guilty of something.
David Freese botched a foul pop-up off the bat of Mookie Betts in the bottom of the first, allowing the presumptive American League MVP to extend his at-bat. He singled moments later and scored the game's first run on Andrew Benintendi's single. Benintendi ended up at second because Yasiel Puig airmailed his throw to the plate in a woefully vain effort to get Betts trying to score.
Brian Dozier failed on two occasions to turn potential double-play balls into two outs, with the second precipitating a J.D. Martinez at-bat that allowed the Red Sox to reclaim the lead in the bottom of the third.
With the bases loaded in the top of the seventh and his club trailing by two, Manny Machado swung at the first pitch he saw from Ryan Brasier, a borderline strike on the outside edge of the zone, even though the right-hander had walked Yasmani Grandal on five pitches in the previous plate appearance. Machado managed a sacrifice fly, and Cody Bellinger's flyout ended the rally moments later.
Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Joc Pederson - who had pinch hit in the top of the frame - bungled a shallow fly ball in left field, allowing it to bounce in front of him and skid into the stands for a ground-rule double; that batted ball, sliced into left by Benintendi, had a hit probability of just 20 percent. Four batters later, Eduardo Nunez effectively sealed a Red Sox victory with a two-out, pinch-hit, three-run homer.
That Nunez was even afforded that opportunity to pinch hit, however, bespeaks a questionable tactical maneuver by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. Pedro Baez, who was summoned from the bullpen after Benintendi's chintzy double, had retired both of the batters he had faced to that point, sandwiching an intentional walk to Martinez between strikeouts of Mitch Moreland and Xander Bogaerts. Through the first two rounds of the postseason, Baez's ERA sat at 0.00. And, moreover, he was better against left-handed batters this year than he was same-handed hitters. Certainly better than Alex Wood is against righties.
Nevertheless, Roberts went to Wood, forcing Alex Cora's hand. Cora went to Nunez. Nunez blasted the second pitch he saw from Wood over the Green Monster.
"We talked about it with (Baez) throwing the ball well right there," Roberts told reporters. "But Devers is really good against the right-hander, and to get a guy off the bench and Nunez, I really liked Alex in that spot, I did.
"Whether they were going to hit Devers with a lead or go to the bench and go with Nunez, I still liked Alex in that spot."
Earlier in the game, too, Roberts erred. In the top of the fifth, with right-hander Matt Barnes on the mound in relief of Sale, the Dodgers had runners at first and second with nobody out. At the time, they trailed by one. Things, as they say, were getting spicy, with Freese coming up.
This situation demanded a pinch-hitter, though. While Freese had gone 2-for-2 to that point, he is merely a slightly-above-average hitter against right-handers. Conversely, Max Muncy, who was omitted from the starting lineup and spared a couple of encounters with Sale, murders right-handed pitching. In fact, the only qualified hitters better than him against righties this year were Mike Trout, Betts, and Martinez. Still, Roberts stuck with Freese. He struck out swinging. The Dodgers' rally amounted to one run.
"Well, at that point you have three guys on the bench and you've got to figure out who - in the fifth inning to deplete your entire bench," said Roberts. "I like David's at-bats. And you look at Barnes, he's sort of neutral. He's got a good fastball. He's got a cutter that gets lefties out. So I just felt that first and second base, you've got Machado behind him and you have a chance to hit for the next guy after that. But in the fifth inning you start hitting for guys, you're going to have nobody left in the game."
The justifications notwithstanding, it clearly wasn't Roberts' finest performance of the postseason, which made his effort consistent with that of his team as a whole. Ultimately, the Dodgers just didn't play well, committing too many mental errors and failing to convert their many opportunities.
"We won Game 1 last year and lost the series, so maybe we'll try it out this way, see if we can win one," Kershaw told MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez.
It's an interesting idea - a bold strategy, Cotton, if you will - but history isn't on the Dodgers' side. Since 1924, when the World Series first shifted to a 2-3-2 format, teams that win Game 1 at home have gone on to win the series 66 percent of the time.
If the Dodgers are to end up in that celebrated minority and snap their 30-year World Series drought, they'll have to be much sharper than they were Tuesday night.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.