Former Boston Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly coughed up the game-winning grand slam in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS, ending the Dodgers postseason run early.
With the Boston Red Sox missing out on this year’s postseason, fans are left to root for those with ties to the organization who did make it to October. Wednesday wasn’t a good night for former Red Sox players wearing Dodger blue as Los Angeles fell to the Washington Nationals in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS.
Most of the headlines will focus on the latest postseason failure from Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. The three-time Cy Young winner has stolen the mantle from David Price as the best regular-season pitcher of this era who can’t get it done on the postseason stage.
Kershaw lived down to his reputation by allowing back-to-back homers on the first two pitches he threw in the eighth inning to tie the game. His strikeout to end the seventh was the only out Kershaw recorded in his relief appearance before getting pulled with the lead erased.
The Dodgers would have opportunities to battle back in a game that extended into extra-innings but the Nationals put the nail in the coffin against old friend Joe Kelly.
The outing couldn’t have gone much worse for the former Red Sox reliever. Kelly pitched a clean ninth inning that included a pair of strikeouts. It should have been handshakes and high-fives for a job well done but the Dodgers pressed their luck too far with Kelly. He began the top of the 10th by walking Adam Eaton, followed by a ground-rule double from Anthony Rendon. The Dodgers then intentionally walked Juan Soto to load the bases.
Most managers would have made a call to their bullpen by this point. It was a bit surprising that Kelly wasn’t pulled after walking Eaton. This is an elimination game in the postseason where every pitcher must be kept on a short leash.
Kelly took the loss in the gut-wrenching defeat that prematurely ended the postseason run of the National League favorites but the blame should be pinned primarily on Roberts. Red Sox fans will always remember Roberts for his game-changing stolen base in the 2004 ALCS but his bullpen mismanagement against the Nats is one postseason memory he’d like to forget.
The strategy the Dodgers’ manager deployed with his bullpen was baffling. Sticking with Kershaw, who allowed a career-high 28 home runs this year and has a history of postseason demons, was a head-scratcher after Rendon took him deep. Sitting idle while Kelly imploded was inexcusable.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Roberts told reporters that he left Kelly in for the 10th because he breezed through the previous frame with only 10 pitches. Closer Kenley Jansen was available, as were Pedro Baez and Dustin May. Roberts wanted to stretch out Kelly as much as he could in extra-innings because he was his most rested reliever.
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Sure, Kelly was well-rested. He hadn’t pitched since Sunday’s Game 3 when he allowed two runs on a hit and three walks. Nothing about his latest outing instilled much confidence in Kelly.
While he made it through the previous inning quickly, Kelly recorded more than three outs only eight times this year and lasted two full innings only once. He owned a 6.57 ERA in seven appearances in which he recorded 4+ outs. Kelly was put in a rare position he hasn’t exactly thrived in despite several viable alternatives.
Roberts pointed to the need for a double-play with the bases loaded as another reason for leaving Kelly in the game. True, Kelly led the team with a 61.2% ground ball rate and boasts an impressive 10.87 K/9. He’s also prone to walks and home runs. Oh, plus he was in the process of unraveling after issuing a walk in a hard-hit double. Maybe that should have offset the value of Kelly’s groundball tendencies.
Kelly’s career has been a series of peaks and valleys. Last year with the Red Sox, Kelly had three separate months with an ERA north of 8.00 and three others with a sub-2.00 ERA. He was lights out during Boston’s World Series run, allowing only one earned run over 11 1/3 postseason innings. Kelly is an enigma who burns bright when he’s on his game but can just as easily go ice cold. Roberts should have recognized that his right-hander simply didn’t have his best stuff that night.
Kelly played a pivotal role in defeating the Dodgers in last year’s World Series by tossing six shutout innings of relief for the Red Sox. Now he’s wearing a Dodgers uniform but still played a part in why Los Angeles will fall short of championship glory. Roberts deserves his fair share of the blame but it’s Kelly who has to carry the L next to his name. Either way, it was a rough night for former Red Sox players.