NASHVILLE, TN — Nashville doesn’t have a Major League Baseball team, but there’s still a strong hometown feel to the upcoming World Series that began Tuesday night. That’s because the Boston Red Sox have two key players on their roster with definite Middle Tennessee roots who still spend a lot of time in the area during the offseason. Those players are right fielder Mookie Betts and starting pitcher David Price. Both will be central figures as the Red Sox try to cap a remarkable season that’s seen them win 108 games in the regular season, then dismantle the Yankees in four games and the Astros in five to win the American League title.
For the Red Sox, beating the Astros may have been the more impressive feat. Houston entered the ALCS with a 10-1 record at home during playoffs the past two seasons, and were coming off a sweep against the Cleveland Indians. But after losing the opener, the Red Sox blew through Houston in four straight. It was the first time since 2005 any team had won four straight in a championship series.
Even more impressive was the way the Red Sox clinched things. Justin Verlander previously had a 4-1 record in elimination games with an earned run average well under two runs a game. Facing him was Price, who had lost nine straight postseason games as a starter, and the teams he pitched for had lost 11 straight overall.
Yet it was Price who pitched six shutout innings, while Verlander gave up four runs and the Astros season was over. Though Betts took a back seat in these playoffs to center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., the ALCS MVP with an amazing nine runs batted in over the five games with two outs, he wasn’t overshadowed by anyone in the regular season. Betts is expected to win his first MVP award next month when the Baseball Writers vote. He’s put together not only a great offensive season, but played Gold Glove caliber defense in Fenway Park’s right field, one of the most difficult in either league.
Facing them will be a Dodgers team led by manager Dave Roberts, who unbelievably still doesn’t know his status for next season despite having led his squad to consecutive World Series appearances. The Dodgers took Game 7 in Milwaukee on a combination of the two factors that characterized their season. Power (all their runs scored on homers) and clutch pitching from both starters and relievers. That multiple Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw nailed down the final three outs in relief was symbolic, because he’s often been criticized for not being nearly as sharp in the postseason as is in the regular season. Against the Brewers Kershaw won the decisive fifth game and saved the finale. That should forever end that criticism.
There’s also quite a bit of historical irony in this series, as the team that initially integrated MLB faces the team that was the last to have a Black player. However, today’s Red Sox are among the most diverse in either league, complete with the game’s first Puerto Rican manager in Alex Cora. The Dodgers have the only African American manager as well, even if he’s on somewhat tenuous footing according to some observers. The Red Sox led MLB in many categories, while the Dodgers topped the National League in home runs. Boston will be a heavy favorite, having defeated a pair of 100-win teams and also having home field advantage.
The folks who run the sport couldn’t be happier, as they have a pair of traditional powers and perennial fan favorites. Plus the Nashville area will certainly have far more of a rooting stake in this World Series than usual.