In order for the Dodgers to head back to Los Angeles with the World Series tied at a game apiece, they will have to find a way to complete a task that has proven onerous for National League teams — winning at Fenway Park.
The NL champions fell short in Game 1, losing, 8-4, in a mostly close contest that got away from L.A. when the Red Sox plated three in the bottom of the seventh. Now tonight’s Game 2 brings another opportunity to escape Boston with a rare sort of victory.
The numbers tell the story. NL clubs have been venturing to Boston’s historic ballpark during the regular season for Interleague games since 1997. In that time, the Sox own MLB’s best home record in those AL-NL confrontations, at 132-71 (.650), including 5-1 against the Dodgers. Their level of dominance is even clearer going by run differential.
Highest run differential at home
Interleague Play (1997-present)
1. Red Sox: +296
2. Athletics: +201
3. Yankees: +196
4. Tigers: +159
5. Blue Jays: +157
The road through Fenway has grown even tougher in recent years. Going back to 2015, the Sox are an MLB-best 32-8 (.800) there against NL clubs, including 7-3 this season. Boston’s plus-80 run differential dwarfs that of the closest team, the Astros, at plus-47.
The caveats here are that the Red Sox have fared well over the years against NL teams, regardless of venue, while also faring well at home, regardless of opponent.
In the history of Interleague Play, Boston also ranks first in road record, at 111-89 (.555), and second in road run differential (plus-150). The Sox have MLB’s third-best overall home winning percentage (.586) in that period since 1997, with the second-best run differential (plus-1,440).
Still, it’s not difficult to see how an unfamiliar NL opponent might be particularly vulnerable to the unique challenges that Fenway Park presents. Besides the noise and the crowd on top of the field, there are angles that don’t exist anywhere else in the Majors. The Green Monster looms in left, the triangle in center and Pesky’s Pole in right, potentially forcing pitchers and hitters to change their approach, and certainly creating havoc for defenders.
Consider the situation facing the Dodgers, who as a team last played at Fenway in 2010. Of the five Los Angeles players who spent time in the outfield in Game 1 — Cody Bellinger, Enrique Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig and Chris Taylor — only Taylor previously had appeared in a game at Fenway, and that was as a shortstop. A workout on the field can only provide so much preparation.
The seventh inning Tuesday supplied a notable example of an NL club’s plight at Fenway, and how it can affect a game.
After the Dodgers scored a run in the top of the seventh to pull within a run at 5-4, Andrew Benintendi led off the bottom of the frame against lefty Julio Urias and blooped a shallow fly ball down the left-field line. Pederson and third baseman Justin Turner both gave chase, with the ball ultimately tipping off Pederson’s glove as he neared a low wall that juts out in that part of the park. A play on which Pederson had a 61-percent catch probability, according to Statcast™, turned into a ground-rule double that helped set up Eduardo Nunez‘s three-run, pinch-hit homer.
“Yeah, it was really good placement,” Pederson said. “I was looking at [Turner] to kind of visualize where he was, where the fence was. I just couldn’t get to it.
After the three-run shot blew the game open, the Red Sox went on to win, thereby improving to 7-1 at home over their past four World Series. While Boston also is 6-1 in Fall Classic road games during that time, the club has once again been significantly more dominant at Fenway, outscoring the opposition, 56-23, for a plus-33 run differential. (The Sox have a road run differential of plus-15 during that time).
In 2004, ’07 and ’13 World Series games at Fenway, the Sox hit .272/.387/.434, while their opponents hit .217/.270/.300.
While the stat lines were more even on Tuesday, it was yet another example of an NL club coming up short in MLB’s oldest ballpark. And now, as Game 2 approaches, the Dodgers must reverse that trend, or else return to L.A. empty-handed.