BOSTON — For the second-straight chilly night in Fenway Park, Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Ryan Madson faced one of baseball’s great psychological performance tests. And for the second-straight night, Madson failed.
A pitcher, the defense, dictates the action in baseball, which makes the game unusual. Standing alone the center of the infield, a pitcher can get in his own way — and he can single-handedly let a game get away. And for a second-straight World Series game, Madson checked both of these boxes as he couldn’t command the ball. With each miss outside the strike zone, the pressure and decibel levels increased in the cramped, 106-year-old ballpark.
Madson inherited two base runners on Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series and three on Wednesday in Game 2. All five scored. They were the decisive runs Tuesday and again Wednesday in Boston’s 4-2 victory. The Red Sox now enjoy a 2-0 lead in the series, which heads to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Friday.
When Madson entered Wednesday with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, it was the most crucial point in the game. Leverage index is a stat designed to weight the importance of every plate appearance in a game as it relates to potential win expectancy swings, with an average plate appearance at a mark of 1.0. A plate appearance in a one-run game in the ninth inning has a greater leverage-index value than that of a one-run game in, say, the second inning. The leverage index of facing Steve Pearce with the bases loaded and two outs, leading by one run, was 4.17 — the highest of the game and second-highest of the series.
Madson, who walked just 16 batters in 52⅔ regular-season innings, began his Game 2 outing by missing badly above the zone with his first two pitches against Pearce. The crowd roared. Red Sox fans began chanting his last name, perhaps sensing weakness. Wearing just a short-sleeve T-shirt under his game jersey, Madson jumped up and down at the back of the mound to try to warm himself in temperatures that had dipped into the low 40s, feeling colder with the wind chill. But he missed twice again above the zone to walk Pearce on five pitches, forcing in Christian Vazquez and tying the score at 2-2.
“I really liked him against Pearce,” said Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts. “He’s done it time and time again for us.”
Madson also entered, and faltered, in a high-leverage situation Tuesday. His first pitch in Game 1 was a wild pitch against Pearce, whom he walked on four pitches.
“The ball is not going where I want it,” Madson said after the game. “It’s kind of a crapshoot with inherited runners. You can be good at it for a long time and then a bloop hit, or a walk like tonight, it’s not automatic. I don’t know if it’s mechanical or physical or emotional. There is a lot of elements going in there. You just have to regroup and start over again.”
Among Dodgers pitchers, Madson has pitched four of the five highest-leverage situations through two games. The Dodgers’ best reliever, Kenley Jansen, hasn’t pitched in the series. While teams have been aggressive in employing relief pitchers this postseason, Roberts has not yet used his best reliever when there have clearly been crucial situations. Instead, a pitcher the Dodgers had claimed off waivers and traded for on Aug. 31 — who had a 5.28 ERA in Washington and a 6.48 mark in a limited sample in L.A. — got the call.1
After walking Pearce on Wednesday, Madson missed with his first pitch to the following batter, J.D. Martinez, and then Madson threw a fastball that found the zone. But Martinez, hobbling on a right ankle he injured Tuesday, sliced it down the right-field line for a two-run single. Boston took a 4-2 lead that held as the final score. The leverage index of that plate appearance? 3.6. It marked the second-greatest leverage index of the game after the Pearce at bat.
“Grip is essential, obviously, in a breaking ball,” Madson said before Game 2. “And a lot of times with the cold weather, I’m not saying anybody uses anything, but if you use anything, a lot of times it’s not as effective in cold weather.
“I didn’t use anything [Tuesday], but I didn’t throw any breaking balls. But [Wednesday], I’m going to make sure I’ve got what everybody uses, the essentials out there again. I didn’t think it was going to be as difficult as it was [Tuesday].”
Whatever he did, Madson had a tough time again Wednesday.
Interestingly, Madson’s four-seam fastball had an average spin rate of 2,289 rpms on Tuesday and 2,196 on Wednesday, and that pitch’s velocity was 95.5 mph on Tuesday and 94.8 on Wednesday — not far removed from his regular-season averages of 2,250 rpms and 95.9 mph. So while his command wavered, his underlying stuff was nearly the same.
The Red Sox had no trouble with the cool conditions Wednesday as their relievers again dominated, averaging 98.4 mph on all fastballs. Starter David Price and the bullpen retired the final 16 Dodgers they faced.
Price took another step toward shedding his reputation as a postseason choker after burying some of his postseason demons in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series — his first win in 12 career postseason starts. He did it by adopting a new plan, throwing his change-up at a career-high rate and shelving his cut fastball. He used a similar approach Wednesday and did not allow a hit through the first three innings. He often went in with his fastball and down and away with his changeup.
He gave up two runs in the fourth but returned for a scoreless fifth — going where no starter had gone in Game 1 — and even posted a scoreless inning in the sixth.
Price now has two postseason wins in his last two starts. A week ago, Price couldn’t win in the postseason. So there’s hope for Ryan Madson.
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