BOSTON (AP) — Aces were out early in the World Series, where four-plus innings for starters is becoming the new norm.
The outings of the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Boston’s Chris Sale turned into short stories. Each failed to get an out in the fifth inning Tuesday night, just the fourth time both starting pitchers were chased that early in a Series opener and the first since 2004 — also at Fenway Park.
They were long gone by the time Boston won 8-4 in what became a predictable postseason battle of bullpens.
“I say it all the time, and I say it to my son, I’ve never seen an ugly win,” Sale explained in a packed Boston clubhouse. “Obviously the stat line isn’t the prettiest thing. It’s not exactly how you draw it up or dream about it, but we got a win, so I’m good to go.”
For a century, aces were baseball’s studs, grabbing the mound for Game 1 as if by birthright and not letting go easily. Think Bob Gibson 50 years ago, pitching a five-hit shutout for St. Louis against Detroit with 17 strikeouts and one walk.
But no pitcher has thrown a complete game in the opener since Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee beat the New York Yankees in 2009. The last complete-game shutout in Game 1 was thrown by Oakland’s Dave Stewart against San Francisco in 1989, part of a tradition of opening gems that included complete-game shutouts for Boston by Luis Tiant in 1975 and Babe Ruth in 1918.
Complete game shutouts have gone the way of flannel uniforms and spittoons, the sport transforming at its most rapid pace since the live-ball era began nearly a century ago.
The first meeting of seven-time All-Stars in a World Series opener was far from a pitcher’s duel. Sale lasted 91 pitches and Kershaw 79.
Boston used six relievers and the Dodgers four. Matt Barnes followed Sale, threw just 14 pitches and gave up the tying run but wound up with the victory because went back ahead in the bottom of the fifth.
“Both teams have the ability to work pitch counts and get pitch counts higher, so you’re going to have to go to the ‘pen and play matchups,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Kershaw dropped to 9-9 in postseason play. Pitching off the first-base side of the rubber with his high arm reach and double leg kick, he allowed five runs, seven hits and three walks. Andrew Benintendi became just the second left-handed hitter to go 3 for 3 in a game against the three-time Cy Young Award winner, after Miami’s Christian Yelich on June 27, 2015.
“I didn’t pitch very well,” Kershaw said. “The slider wasn’t very good tonight. I didn’t have the depth there. Kind of flat in the zone and they made me pay for it.”
Sale, a lanky lefty, pitched off the extreme third-base side of the rubber and fared little better, giving up three runs, five hits and two walks against the first batting order in Series history that included nine right-handed hitters, none of them switch hitters . Sale was pitching for the first time since a one-night hospital stint due to a stomach illness during the AL Championship Series.
Not since Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (3 2/3 innings) and St. Louis right-hander Woody Williams (2 1/3 innings) in 2004 had both starters exited so quickly, an 11-9 win that started the Red Sox to a four-game sweep and their first title since 1918.
The only others were the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale (two innings) and Baltimore’s Dave McNally (2 1/3 innings) in the Orioles’ 5-2 win in 1966 and the New York Yankees’ Waite Hoyt (2 1/3 innings) and the New York Giants’ Mule Watson (two innings) in the Giants 5-4 win in the first Series game at Yankee Stadium in 1923.
But this is the pitcher’s game of the present, and it seems the future.
“Everybody is taking the ball at any time,” said Boston Nathan Eovaldi, a usual starter who pitched a perfect eighth inning. “You might be going out there for multiple innings. It might just be one hitter. You’ve just got to be ready to go.”
It was the 26th Series game in which both starters failed to get an out in the fifth and the second in a row after the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish exited in the second inning in Game 7 last year and Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr. departed in the third. Before now, the only back-to-back double short outings were by Brooklyn and the Yankees all the way back in the Games 6 and 7 of 1947.
Baseball has become “Match Game,” decisions dictated by printouts and spreadsheets.
“I love it. I love it. It’s a challenge,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “They’re going to mix and match. They’re going to pinch hit. They’re going to bring their relievers. … I hate managing the other team, but actually you have to manage them and see who they have, and where they’re going to come in, and when is going to be the point that the matchup is going to benefit us.”
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