By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Here’s how quickly things can change for you when you’re facing the 2018 Boston Red Sox.
You can be leading by a run in the middle of the game. Your starter can be cruising after a minor hiccup early on. You can have two quick outs recorded, and you can have an 0-2 count on the No. 9 hitter.
You can be feeling pretty good about yourself as you prepare to enter the late innings with a 2-1 lead intact.
And then, in a matter of minutes, everything can come crumbling down for you. When it’s over, you’ve not only lost a game, but potentially your entire season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers learned this lesson firsthand for the second consecutive night on Wednesday at Fenway Park. Hyun-Jin Ryu had retired eight out of his last nine batters faced when he had Christian Vazquez in a hole. Ryu might have underestimated Boston’s chances of catching fire at that exact moment. Against most teams, Ryu would have been right. But, well, these Red Sox aren’t like most teams.
Vazquez singled into right field.
For Ryu, eh, some work to do. But nothing major.
Then Mookie Betts singled.
OK, time to hunker down.
Ryu next found himself locked in a battle with Andrew Benintendi, who intently fought and fouled off pitches. It was a frustrating affair for Ryu, who met with his catcher three separate times during the at-bat.
Benintendi ultimately won, drawing a walk on the eighth pitch of the at-bat.
Exit stage left for Ryu. Enter Ryan Madson.
The reliever struggled in Game 1 and was even worse in Game 2, sending two pitches at Steve Pearce’s head before walking him on five pitches with the bases loaded to allow the Red Sox to tie the game without Pearce ever needing to remove the bat from his shoulder.
You never want to make it easy for the 2018 Red Sox. They tend to make it hurt.
That’s what J.D. Martinez did. Despite watching Madson miss wildly to Pearce, and despite a first-pitch ball well off the plate, Martinez decided to put a swing on the 1-0 pitch. All it did was win the game.
Martinez put an inside-out swing on a middle-in fastball, shooting it into right field and driving home Betts and Benintendi.
Not only did that score hold as the final, but it absolutely killed the Dodgers.
After Martinez’s two-run single, the Dodgers did not get a single batter to reach base for the rest of the game. After getting three hits and three walks to score two runs through the first five innings of the game, Dodgers hitters went 0-for-12 with three strikeouts the rest of the way against David Price, Joe Kelly, Nathan Eovaldi and Craig Kimbrel.
It was only a two-run deficit, but it might as well have been 200.
Their night was over. Their season may be, too. If only Ryu hadn’t underestimated that No. 9 hitter, who was stuck in an 0-2 hole with two outs and nobody on base in what looked to be your average, lifeless, uneventful fifth inning.
“We just have guys that really do a really good job of grinding at-bats out and turning the lineup over,” Martinez said of Vazquez’s two-out, two-strike single to start the rally. “I think everybody takes pride in that.”
As for his own approach, Martinez said he lamented his at-bat the previous night, when he stepped to the plate after Madson walked Pearce and then struck out swinging after letting a juicy first pitch past by him.
This time, despite Madson throwing balls on five of his first six pitches, Martinez attacked.
“I faced him [in Game 1] and it was a very similar situation. He was a little wild, and I went up there kind of passive. I said, this is the time, I said, trust your eyes. Go up there and trust your eyes and if it’s a ball, it’s a ball, but don’t go up there being passive,” Martinez explained. “It wasn’t a bad pitch. It was a good pitch. I was just fortunate enough to stay inside of it and dump it in, really.”
With that two-RBI single, the Red Sox accumulated their 34th two-out RBI in 11 postseason games.
With two outs in this playoffs, they’re batting .268 as a team with an .823 OPS.
With two outs and runners on base, they’re hitting .325 with a .993 OPS.
And with two outs and runners in scoring position, they’re hitting .415 with a preposterous 1.320 OPS.
This is simply uncanny.
From Eduardo Nunez’s pinch-hit three-run homer in Game 1 of the World Series, to Jackie Bradley Jr.’s grand slam in Game 3 against Houston, to Bradley’s game-changing two-run homer in Game 4 against Houston, and now to Martinez’s two-run single in Game 2 of the World Series, the Red Sox just keep compiling clutch hit after clutch hit, leaving a trail of dispirited relievers left to wonder what happened. And how.
That is why the Red Sox are now just two wins away from a World Series championship.
And yet, while these two-out RBIs often provide the emotional peaks of these high-stakes baseball games, Betts dispassionately described how this team continues to come through time and time again in such high-intensity moments.
“You have to play 27 outs. It’s just one of those things where you can’t give them away. Fortunately we just grind out at-bats,” Betts said. “It’s just our approach. We don’t give away outs, don’t give away strikes. One of those things where you just have to battle. From one through nine, we all battle and make it tough.”
Benintendi explained it in the same matter-of-fact tone.
“I don’t know, I think we just lock it in and try to be a tough out,” Benintendi said. “Just trying to put together good at-bats and try to make the battle as difficult as possible.”
Martinez seemed to indicate that there’s no need to shine a spotlight on all of the two-out hits, because the Red Sox as a team simply expect themselves to always deliver hits, no matter the situation.
“Everyone is talking about that, we’re coming through with these two outs [hits],” he said. “But to me I just feel that we do a really good job of not giving up, not giving that last out away.”
The end result of all of those two-out hits is that the opposing team is left feeling hopeless. It happened in Game 2, and it happened in Game 1, when the Dodgers went 0-for-6 with two strikeouts following Nunez’s blast.
“Whenever that pitcher is one pitch away from being out of an inning, and to be able to have nobody on base with two outs, and to start a rally like that, that can deflate teams,” said David Price, who earned his second straight victory in this game thanks in large part to that fifth-inning rally.
Benintendi explained it simpler still: “Whenever you can deflate opposing teams, it’s what we’re trying to do.”
Just put it this way. If this were a prize fight, and the Red Sox were the heavyweight champion, you may step in the ring and feel all right about your chances. You may land a few heavy blows, and you may even win a round or two. But at some point, you know it’s coming. The knockout is coming and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Whether it happens in a middle round, or whether it happens late, it doesn’t matter. It’s coming. And the second you don’t anticipate its arrival, it tends to wallop you right across the jaw.
For a more detailed description, feel free to ask anybody from the Yankees, Astros or Dodgers organizations, all of whom have been shown no mercy from this overwhelming Red Sox team. Just when you think you’re at your safest, that’s exactly when they’re most dangerous.