LOS ANGELES — On March 31, the third day of the 2018 regular season, the Boston Red Sox moved into first place in the American League East, a position they held almost exclusively the rest of the way.
By May, it was clear they were the best team in baseball. In October, they entered the postseason with 108 wins and a target on their backs.
On Sunday, they completed the seven-month marathon and cemented their status atop the sport. Riding the left arm of David Price and the powerful swings of Steve Pearce, the Red Sox easily dispatched the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-1, in Game 5 to cap a dominant season and claim the 2018 World Series title.
It is Boston’s first championship since 2013, and fourth over the past 15 seasons.
With the World Series trophy safely secured, the conversation will almost definitely turn to this Red Sox team’s place among the best in baseball history.
The résumé is strong. Only eight teams won more games than the Red Sox did during the regular season. Led by a rookie manager in Alex Cora, they set a franchise record for wins with 108. Of the 187 days during the regular season, the Red Sox spent 173 in first place. Their longest losing streak was three games.
Having the best regular-season record is often seen as a curse, in many cases leading only to playoff heartbreak. Boston’s talent, however, could not be stopped even in the chaos of October. En route to a World Series title, they played a total of 176 games, and won 119. During the postseason, they went 11-3 — losing just once in each round.
Price, Boston’s $217 million pitcher, had not won a postseason start in his 11-year career entering this year. Now he has three, including a dominant performance against the Dodgers on short rest in Game 5. He vexed the Dodgers over seven innings Sunday, striking out five and pitching with the cool confidence that he seemed to lack in past Octobers.
The Red Sox originally planned to start their ace, Chris Sale, on regular rest, but they opted to give him even more time given his recent ailments. Cora insisted Price was ready for the assignment, despite starting Game 2 and pitching in relief in the 18-inning Game 3. It worked, and Sale came on to close out the victory in the ninth inning.
The rest of the Boston’s power pitching and power hitting formula functioned almost seamlessly, too. Facing the Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw, the Red Sox showed again why they were the best offense in baseball during the regular season.
Three batters into the game, Pearce clobbered a two-run home run to center field to give the Red Sox a lead they never relinquished. A veteran role player acquired in a minor trade in June, Pearce has proved invaluable. Often overshadowed by star sluggers J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts during the season, Pearce drove in eight of Boston’s 28 runs this series and was named the World Series MVP.
Pearce’s acquisition is one of the many key moves orchestrated by the Red Sox’s president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski.
When Dombrowski took over in August 2015, he had a strong core of young players: Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers and Betts, among others. He supplemented the roster by spending and trading away highly-regarded prospects for proven stars.
Before the 2016 season, he traded a package of young players for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and signed Price. Before the 2017 season, Dombrowski shipped away two of the team’s best prospects for Sale. Entering this season, Dombrowski spent $110 million on Martinez.
Consistently among the biggest spenders in baseball, the Red Sox led the major leagues with a payroll of more than $230 million this year. And on Sunday, both the young stars and high-prized talent helped deliver the decisive victory.
After Price surrendered his lone run on his first pitch of the night, a solo blast by the Dodgers’ David Freese, the Red Sox offense started to pick apart Kershaw again.
In the sixth inning, Betts, who entered Sunday hitting .207 in the postseason, smashed a Kershaw slider over the left-field wall for a solo home run. It was the first postseason home run of Betts’ career, fulfilling the premonition of his manager, who had predicted Betts would finally break out in Game 5.
It was another example of Cora’s conviction in his players that has defined his managing.
While many managers have sputtered in their first seasons on the job, Cora has exuded confidence, excelled with aggressive tactics, built strong relationships with his players, and blended all aspects of the job, from analytics to the human touch.
He is the second Latin American-born manager to win the World Series, joining Ozzie Guillen, a native of Venezuela, who did it in 2005 with the Chicago White Sox. Guillen won his in his second year as a manager. Cora did it in his first try, a feat also accomplished by two other first-year Red Sox managers during this stretch of titles — Terry Francona in 2004 and John Farrell in 2013.
From the dugout Sunday, Cora watched Martinez also snap out of his World Series skid. Martinez, who smashed 43 home runs in the regular season, clobbered his first of the World Series in the seventh inning to give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead.
An inning later, Pearce added his second blast of the game, throwing his arm in the air as he ran around the bases and the Red Sox dugout celebrated.
Despite their regular-season success, there were still small doubts about the Red Sox entering October, from Price’s past postseason failures to Sale’s health to some holes in the infield. None, perhaps, was bigger than a bullpen that sputtered in the second half.
Many of those concerns were not issues during the postseason. Players such as reliever Joe Kelly and Price improved. Cora used his starting pitchers to fortify the bullpen, exemplified by Nathan Eovaldi’s heroics in the marathon Game 3. Slowed by a stomach illness and the remnants of a shoulder injury from the regular season, Sale pitched as much as he could, including the inning of relief Sunday.
And after Sale struck out Dodgers slugger Manny Machado to close out the victory, the Red Sox assumed a crown they seemed destined to win all season.