BOSTON — Dave Roberts kept his head down and walked with purpose. The Dodgers manager, still in full uniform, weaved through the concourse behind home plate, escorted by an MLB representative toward the press conference room. Normally, managers don't need to deal with the mob of fans after games, let alone during the World Series. But Fenway Park opened up the week the Titanic sank and is 106 going on a trillion years old and isn't outfitted with secret tunnels like Staples Center.
Several Dodgers fans, stuck in a human traffic jam, unhappy with their Game 1 loss, spotted the skipper and did something most fans never get the opportunity to do: express their displeasure with their team's performance directly to the man in charge.
"Roberts, you suck!" one Dodgers fan yelled as Roberts scooted past and briskly walked toward the Red Sox clubhouse door, which leads to Fenway's press conference room. Some Red Sox fans smiled.
Roberts already never needed to pay for any meal in Boston again, but his managerial decisions in the first two games of the World Series have frozen that status in carbonite for all of the wrong reasons and have put Los Angeles in desperation mode. The puzzling decisions have begun to pile up, and fingers are beginning to point directly at the man at the head of the Dodgers dugout.
Los Angeles starter Hyun-Jin Ryu held things together on Wednesday until the fifth inning, when he loaded the bases with two outs, and Roberts faced a choice. Do you bring Ryan Madson, who struggled in Game 1, or someone like Pedro Baez, who overwhelmed the Red Sox lineup Tuesday?
The third-year Dodgers manager turned to Madson, only to see his reliever walk Steve Pearce on five pitches to tie up the game before allowing a two-RBI single to J.D. Martinez to give the Red Sox a 4-2 lead that Boston would not relinquish—this, just one night after a Madson wild pitch set up the Red Sox to take the lead in the fifth inning of Game 1. He later gave up a hard RBI single to Rafael Devers to make it 5-3 Red Sox.
So far in the World Series, Dodgers starters have failed to make it through the fifth inning.
"Madson has been our guy for quite some time and he's pitched in some big spots," Roberts said. "The usage, I wasn't concerned about. He's fresh. He didn't throw too many pitches yesterday. Had a couple days off coming into this series. That part of it was easy and I liked him against Pearce. He's done it time and time again, and the last few times, it hasn't worked out."
The questionable pitching changes are already beginning to accumulate. All of this came after a Game 1 in which Roberts decided to take out Baez, who had struck out two Red Sox hitters handily, and bring in lefty Alex Wood to face the left-handed hitting Devers.
This despite the fact that Baez has been tougher on lefties (.164/.310/.299) than righties (.246/.291/.380) this season and after Wednesday has not allowed a hit against lefties in 32 consecutive at-bats.
In response, Red Sox manager Alex Cora sidestepped, bringing in Eduardo Nunez, who hit a three-run homer that clinched an 8-4 series-opening victory for Boston.
"Whether they were going to hit Devers with a lead or go to the bench and go with Nunez, I still liked Alex in that spot," Roberts said after Game 1.
Roberts' calamitous pitching changes in the first two games have all but buried the Dodgers' chances of winning their first World Series since 1988. The pressure avalanches onto the Dodgers as this series swings over from the frigid New England winds to the Los Angeles sun. And for as much as Roberts has hurt the Dodgers' chances, Cora has bolstered Boston's odds of raising its ninth championship trophy.
Cora's success in the World Series isn't an anomaly. Throughout the regular season, the first-year manager stuck with his players through slumps, building trust in the process. The ability to build relationships facilitated Cora's flexibility in Games 1 and 2, when he started Devers over Nunez at third base despite precedent suggesting the latter would start against lefties.
The move paid off big time in the series opener; despite starting on the bench, Nunez stayed ready and came through with the biggest hit of his career. This after Devers himself had already reached base two of three times and drove in a run.
"He's the reason we're here," Nunez said. "Every move we make, there's a reason. And it's a good reason every time he makes a move."
"He's in everybody's corner from day one," said outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. "He's a great communicator. He's a guy we all gravitate toward. He can get down to our level and be one of the guys, but at the end of the day, we ultimately know he's the leader."
The reasoning behind some of Roberts' moves has been much less clear. And now with his team down two games and headed back home, Roberts will have less than 48 hours to figure out where things need to change for the Dodgers to ensure an opportunity to return back to Fenway Park for a Game 6. A lot will need to go right for Los Angeles to lock in that return flight to Logan Airport, and the Dodgers know it.
"You can find out a lot about yourself when your backs are against the wall," said first baseman David Freese. "That's not necessarily a good saying 'cause teams with their backs up against the wall don't necessarily end up winning. But our backs are up against the wall."
A reporter points out to Freese that most teams in the Dodgers' position, down 2-0 in a playoff series after losing the first two games on the road, don't come back. Since 1985, the 2004 Boston Red Sox are the only team to come back to win a best-of-seven playoff series after losing the first two games on the road. Freese takes a second to pause to ponder his team's new reality.
"For sure, but some have, right? Right?" Freese asks. He musters a chuckle. "Correct?"
For the Dodgers to have any chance of joining that small list, Freese's manager—who surely remembers what it takes from being on that 2004 Red Sox team—will have to put an end to his many mistakes.