Eduardo Nunez Comes Through As Red Sox Beat Dodgers In Game 1

Image credit: Eduardo Nunez (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

BOSTON—The Red Sox have made a living trading prospects for veterans in recent years.

Craig Kimbrel from the Padres in 2015. Chris Sale from the White Sox in 2016. Nathan Eovaldi, Steve Pearce and Ian Kinsler in 2018. All accomplished veterans who helped push the Red Sox to the 2018 World Series, all acquired in trades for prospects.

There, too, was Eduardo Nunez. Acquired from the Giants at last year’s trade deadline for minor league righthanders Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos, Nunez delivered sterling production for half a season after being acquired. But he aggravated a knee injury four pitches into the 2017 postseason, re-signed with the Red Sox only late in the offseason and largely floundered this year both at the plate and in the field. He was effectively demoted down the stretch, starting just 12 of the Red Sox’s final 26 games in September and getting just six at-bats in the ALCS after going 2-for-11 with poor defensive play when given a shot in the ALDS.

For a moment, it looked like Nunez might be regarded as one of the Red Sox’s more lukewarm acquisitions in their bounty of prospect-for-veteran trades.

With one mighty swing, Nunez changed that.

Nunez blew open Game One of the World Series with a pinch-hit, three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning, sending the Red Sox to an 8-4 victory over the Dodgers at Fenway Park on Tuesday evening.

Called upon to pinch-hit for Rafael Devers after the Dodgers brought in lefty Alex Wood from the bullpen, Nunez got a 1-0 breaking ball and sent it 373 feet over the Green Monster on his first World Series swing, giving the Red Sox their largest lead of the night and the decisive blow to put away the feisty Dodgers.

“As soon as (Wood) was in the bullpen, I was seeing video of him inside the dugout,” Nunez said. “So I knew he threw a lot of offspeed. Guys on first and second, I knew he didn’t want me to beat him with the fastball. So I knew I’d see that whole at-bat something soft, and he threw that twice.”

Up to that point, the Red Sox had done what they were supposed to do. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, knocked Clayton Kershaw out of the game two batters into the fifth and never trailed.

But they couldn’t shake the Dodgers. Their 2-0 lead evaporated into a 2-2 tie. Their 3-2 lead became a 3-3 tie. And when they went ahead 5-3, the Dodgers crawled back within a run at 5-4 and continued to pressure the Red Sox bullpen.

Only when Nunez stepped to the plate did the Red Sox pull away and truly secure the victory go up 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.

“He struggled defensively, we know that, but he always had a positive attitude,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Nunez. “And he’s one of the leaders in the clubhouse. For him to show up today and put up a big swing—that’s his first World Series swing—it’s very gratifying to see him do that.”

Anderson and Santos are now two of the Giants’ better prospects. Anderson ranked No. 7 on the Giants’ midseason top 10 and Santos was right behind him at No. 8. They very well may have big league futures ahead of them. But with what Nunez gave the Red Sox down the stretch in 2017 and now a game-changing World Series home run, it’s a deal the Red Sox would happily make again.

“You know, it’s weird because I don’t care about being a hero,” Nunez said. “As long as we have the win, that’s all that matters. We are here to win and lose together.”

Of course, the most recent prospects the Red Sox chose to keep made an impact too. Andrew Benintendi, Boston’s No. 1 prospect entering 2017, went 4-for-5, joining Jacoby Ellsbury (2007) and Wally Moses (1946) as the only Red Sox players with four hits in a World Series game. Devers, their No. 2 prospect entering 2017, drove in what turned out to be the decisive run with an RBI single in the fifth.

In all, Boston pounded out 11 hits and drew five walks, as seven of their nine starters reached base.

“We had a good game plan and we stuck to it,” Benintendi said. “Just trying to tack on runs one at a time and try not to give away at-bats.”

Most of that damage was done against Kershaw, who took the loss to drop his all-time postseason record to 9-9, 4.22 in 29 appearances (23 starts). The Red Sox tagged Kershaw for seven hits and three runs in the four-plus innings he was on the mound, then tacked on two more runs charged to Kershaw when reliever Ryan Madson failed to strand his inherited baserunners.

“I don’t think he had the fastball command that he typically does, missing up in the zone,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I don’t think his slider had the depth that we’re used to seeing. And those guys, to their credit, they put some good at-bats on him.”

Kershaw didn’t receive any help from his defense, from the very first batter he faced. Kershaw induced a foul pop-up down the first base line from Mookie Betts to lead off the bottom of the first, but first baseman David Freese misread it and let it drop, giving Betts second life.

Two pitches later, Betts roped a leadoff single to center to get the Red Sox in business. Betts promptly stole second and came home on Benintendi’s single through the right side, the first run to score as the result of a Dodgers defensive folly.

The second came shortly after.

Yasiel Puig attempted to throw Betts out at the plate from right field and airmailed the throw over his cutoff man—an oft-repeated problem for Puig over the years—allowing Benintendi to advance to second base on the throw. Three pitches later, J.D. Martinez lined a hanging Kershaw slider into center to score Benintendi and make it 2-0 Red Sox.

“We didn’t play the defense that we typically do,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I thought we left some outs out there. And it didn’t make Clayton’s job any easier.”

Still, the Dodgers crawled back to give Kershaw a fresh start on multiple occasions. Each time, he couldn’t hold it.

The Dodgers pulled into a 2-2 tie in the top of the third, and Kershaw surrendered an RBI double to J.D. Martinez to give the Red Sox the lead back in the bottom of the inning.

The Dodgers pulled into another tie at 3-3 in the top of the fifth, and Kershaw responded by walking Betts and giving up a single to Benintendi to open the bottom of the inning before being pulled. Both would eventually come around to score, handing Kershaw the loss.

His ace counterpart didn’t fare much better. Sale lasted four innings, giving up five hits and three runs as he squandered two early leads. Matt Kemp homered and Manny Machado drove in three runs for the Dodgers.

That kept it close for awhile. In the end, Nunez had the final say.

“The reason I came back here is I want to win rings,” Nunez said. “I’d never had that experience. I’d never had a World Series game. I think the best chance is this thing, this team.”

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