LOS ANGELES — Max Mercy.
All of a sudden, we have a World Series that may actually be competitive.
An opposite-field, walk-off home run from Max Muncy in the 18th inning finally ended the longest game in postseason history early Saturday morning with a 3-2 Dodgers win. The walk-off closed a marathon that alternated between ugly plays and bizarre scenes, from Eduardo Nunez appearing to be hurt no fewer than three times to Clayton Kershaw pinch-hitting (and making solid contact). The game ended well past 3 a.m. on the East Coast, and gave the Dodgers life. They trail in the best-of-seven series two games to one.
Red Sox righty Nate Eovaldi, who had already pitched in relief in Games 1 and 2 of this series, threw his heart out Friday night into Saturday morning, going six scoreless innings before he finally let one slip in his seventh inning of work. Muncy hit the leadoff shot to start the frame.
Muncy almost crushed a walk-off to right field in the 15th inning, but it went just foul to right field.
Alex Cora did not manage a beauty in the longest game in not only postseason history, but World Series history. Neither team played particularly well, the fans grew restless, some left, and many more fell asleep. But Dave Roberts kept more pitching in reserve.
Drew Pomeranz was warming in the 18th, which Eovaldi began at 90 pitches. Coming off a pair of Tommy John surgeries and as a free agent to be, Eovaldi gave an incredible performance, even as the losing pitcher.
A win for the Red Sox would have put them in position for a sweep and would have devastated the Dodgers.
David Price pitched on two days rest in relief on Friday night, handling the ninth. Jackie Bradley Jr. homered yet again, tying the game at 1 in the eighth inning. Rick Porcello wasn’t quite as good as Walker Buehler but was plenty good enough in a National League pitchers’ duel. And then, they played the rest of the game.
Here are three takeaways from an instant classic:
1. The 13th inning was a smorgasbord of terrible things, tragedies never to be relived. The Red Sox took a 2-1 lead on an infield error. A little dribbler from Nunez — hobbling before and after a misplay by the Dodgers on what should have been a groundout— allowed the Sox to pull ahead. Pitcher Scott Alexander threw the ball away on a toss to first. The Dodgers tied the game at 2 in the bottom of the inning on an infield error as well, when second baseman Ian Kinsler threw away what looked like a routine grounder that would end the game at 2-1. Kinsler’s foot got stuck. There were two outs. There was no scoring from there until Muncy's jack.
2. Cora pulled a move that eventually will be more common throughout games, perhaps to the detriment of an already lagging pace of play. When Manny Machado was coming up with a runner on and two out in the bottom of the eighth inning and the game tied at 1, Cora walked out of the dugout and pointed to his outfielders. (They had already gathered in center field because Xander Bogaerts had been shaken up on a hard slide.) The request from Cora, made by crossing his arms out in front of him: starting left fielder J.D. Martinez go to right field, starting right fielder Mookie Betts go to center field, and starting left fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. The idea was simple: with Machado a powerful right-handed batter, Cora wanted a better defender than Martinez in left field. Matt Barnes struck out Machado, so Cora wasn’t given a chance to look like a genius on that play, but the idea’s been around for a while: why not put the best outfielder on the side of the field where the ball is most likely to be hit, every single batter? It’ll slow the game down, but it fits with baseball’s move towards optimization. If it gives a team a better chance to make an out, someone will do it with regularity, as long as it’s allowed. (It probably would take some getting used to for the outfielders, at first, given the different angles that exist.) Cora went to the Machado Shift a second time, in the bottom of the 10th, with Brock Holt in right field. Machado popped up on the infield.
3. On some level, the baseball-watching experience was lessened by the fact Walker Buehler came out after seven innings. The magic number for pitch counts has long been 100, and Buehler was filthy all night long, likely giving full exertion on close to every pitch. His 108 tosses were a career-high, besting a mark of 105 he had reached twice since first reaching the majors last year. He’s 24 years old and the Dodgers have to keep his health in mind. Realistically, few teams would allow Buehler to keep throwing, and the pitcher who replaced him, Kenley Jansen, is no slouch. Nonetheless, wouldn’t it have been enjoyable? To see Buehler try to close it out himself? Even though most baseball fans accept that it’s smarter to turn the game over to the ‘pen, if there’s a part of you that wished Buehler could have kept going — yes, even if you’re a Sox fan — you’re not crazy, as long as you also understand why he did not.
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