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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

World Series: Red Sox at their best with two outs in postseason

Enrique Hernandez #14 of the Los Angeles Dodgers

Enrique Hernandez #14 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on as Christian Vazquez #7 of the Boston Red Sox reacts during the fifth inning in Game Two of the 2018 World Series at Fenway Park on October 24, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

BOSTON — "Do damage." Catchy slogan, right? And captures the essence of these Red Sox perfectly, because the damage they inflict destroys you in every way.

On the scoreboard, sure. But psychologically, too. For as talented as the Boston lineup is, it is equally relentless, and without mercy. The Yankees fell victim to that, as did the Astros, whose title defense ultimately wilted in the ALCS.

Now it’s the Dodgers’ turn, and after the first two games of this World Series, they seem destined for the same fate after losing again Wednesday night, this time by the score of 4-2. With temps in the low 40s at Fenway Park, the Red Sox’s coldblooded approach resulted in all of their run production coming with two outs, a signature move that is demoralizing to opponents.

“That can deflate teams,” David Price said. “So that’s huge.”

The Red Sox are now 8-0 this postseason when scoring first, and they did so again during Wednesday’s Game 1 on Ian Kinsler’s RBI single off Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu in the second inning — with two outs, of course. But the knockout blow came in the fifth, when the Red Sox put together a bases-empty, two-out rally off Ryu that began with an opposite-field single by catcher Christian Vazquez, the No. 9 hitter.

After another single and walk, Ryu was gone, and reliever Ryan Madson walked Steve Pearce on five pitches to force in the tying run. Two pitches later, J.D. Martinez smacked a two-run single to rightfield that put the Red Sox up to stay, 4-2. Before the game, Madson compared facing Martinez to being “in a pit with a rattlesnake.” Once again, he got the fangs.

“That was a great example of just how you grind out an inning, grind out at-bats,” said Martinez, who improved to 9-for-12 (.750) with 20 RBIs with the bases loaded this year, including the regular season. “It’s something we preach about.”

All this time we’ve been oohing and aahing over triple-digit exit velocities and launch angles, the shiny baubles of the analytics set. Here in the Statcast Era, it’s become a different way to keep score, as if this sport were a longest-drive contest, offering a new Buick as the grand prize.

In the midst of all this navel-gazing, we tend to lose sight of the most crucial element of winning baseball — timely contact, especially of the two-out variety, a feat these 2018 Red Sox apparently have mastered. They are the most life-draining for an opponent. One minute, you’re a pitch away from safety. The next, the roof is caving in. It can be backbreaking, and Boston has become an expert at inflicting this particular brand of pain this October.

“It’s a big argument in baseball,” Martinez said. “We’re not up there trying to hit everything in the air and swinging for the fences. We go up there and the pitch dictates what we’re going to do. We’re not up there forcing balls in the air. I feel like it’s the common mistake with hitters these days. And I think it’s something that we have a really good understanding of it. We all think we’re hitters before sluggers in a sense.

“And that’s how I think. I take pride in not being just a one-dimensional hitter, a complete hitters.” 

Overall, it’s working for the Red Sox. Check out the numbers. In 11 games, Boston has scored 36 of their 68 runs with two outs, or 53 percent. How extraordinary is that? During the regular reason, the MLB average is 37 percent. Not only that, the Red Sox have 33 hits with two outs this postseason with two outs, and were batting .452 (19-for-42) in two-out situations with runners in scoring position. 

“One thing we talked about before the playoffs started was get the leadoff guy out, and don’t give up two-out hits or runners,” Alex Cora said. “And we’ve been doing that to the opposition. Putting the ball in play in those situations is very important. We live in an era that .210 with 30 home runs and 70 RBIs is acceptable, it’s a good season, and we don’t believe that. There’s certain situations that a strikeout is just not an out. We put them in play and that’s why we won the game.”

How can the Dodgers stop a team that refuses to even slow down? Now trailing 0-2 in this World Series, it could be over in L.A. before they come up with an answer.

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