Short on sleep, and baserunners, few would have blamed the Red Sox for resting up in the late innings of Saturday's Game 4.
Trailing 4-0 and with just one hit off Dodgers starter Rich Hill through six innings, things looked bleak, after all. Hill was cruising, closer Kenley Jansen loomed and the Sox had failed to get anything going offensively less than 24 hours after they plated two runs in what amounted to two full baseball games' worth of innings.
They chose instead to fight. A pair of walks preceded a two-out, three-run home run by Mitch Moreland in the seventh inning to make it a one-run game, and Steve Pearce hit a solo homer off the aforementioned Jansen in the eighth to tie the game.
An inning later, another pinch-hitter, Rafael Devers, drove in Brock Holt with an RBI single to give the Sox their first lead of the night, and a few batters later Pearce delivered the knockout punch, a three-run double to extend the lead. The Dodgers mounted a comeback of their own in the bottom of the ninth, getting to Sox closer Craig Kimbrel for two runs, but the Boston club held on for a 9-6 win to move within one game of their ninth World Series title.
"This team has a lot of fight," Pearce told FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal after the game. "It was great to see how we responded."
Pearce was among the unlikeliest of heroes, given that he started the game primarily for his prowess against left-handed pitching. In the end, it was his at-bats against righties -- first Jansen, then later Kenta Maeda -- that made the difference.
The 9-6 belies what started as a pitchers' duel, as both Hill and Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez traded zeroes through the game's first five innings.
It was Rodriguez who blinked first, but not before an error briefly changed the game's complexion. After loading the bases with one out, E-Rod induced a ground ball to Pearce at first base that should have been an inning-ending double play to avoid any damage. Instead, Pearce got the out at home, but the return throw to first base by catcher Christian Vazquez was errant, allowing a run to score and extending the inning.
That brought Yasiel Puig to the dish with two on and two outs, and Puig punished Rodriguez and the Sox with a three-run blast deep into the Los Angeles night. The homer ended the southpaw's night and put the Sox in a hole that recent returns suggested might be tough to dig themselves out of, on the heels of Friday night's 18-inning affair in which the Sox plated just two runs.
Moreland's homer, which came after Hill exited, gave the Sox some life, but the Dodgers still entered the eighth inning in a good spot -- holding a lead and with their closer coming on to try to earn the six-out save that's become commonplace in recent postseasons. Jansen got a quick out but didn't get a cutter in enough on Pearce, who muscled it over the left-center field wall to tie the game.
Joe Kelly encountered some trouble in the second of his two innings of work, bringing Yasmani Grandal to the plate with runners on the corners and two outs, but he struck out Grandal with a 98 mile-per-hour fastball to send the game to the ninth.
That's when Holt bounced a one-out double inside the third base bag to bring Devers to the dish. With Alex Wood feverishly trying to ready to face him, the Dodgers were instead forced to stick with righty Dylan Floro. On the third pitch of the at-bat, the young third baseman ripped a hit back up the middle that allowed Holt to race around to score.
What followed was not inconsequential, as a 9-4 lead heading to the bottom of the ninth with Kimbrel on the mound suddenly became a 9-6 lead with a runner on first and one out after an Enrique Hernandez two-run homer. Manny Machado hit a grounder to third that Devers awkwardly fielded, but he fired a strike to first base to beat the runner. Finally, mercifully, on the seventh pitch of the at-bat and Kimbrel's 28th pitch of the evening, Cody Bellinger flied out to end it.
The result has the Sox on the brink of another championship, what would be their fourth since 2004. They're lined up well to do it Sunday, too, with Chris Sale rested and ready to go against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Neither Sale nor Kershaw was convincing in an 8-4 Red Sox win in Game 1 of the series, but both should show better Sunday.
And just like the Sox in Game 4, don't expect the Dodgers to go down without a fight in what will be, win or lose, their last home game in 2018.
Diaz, Hader Recognized With Reliever Awards
Diaz was honored as the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year, and Hader as the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year, prior to Saturday's World Series Game 4 in Los Angeles.
The relievers took different routes in getting to LA. Diaz led the league in saves, racking up 57; the next-closest save total in the majors was Wade Davis's 43, and Craig Kimbrel turned in the AL's second-best total with 42. The 24-year-old posted a 1.96 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 124/17 K/BB ratio over his 73 1/3 innings of work.
Hader, meanwhile, saved just 12 games for the NL Central-champion Brewers. The southpaw instead did his best work in the higher-leverage innings between the starter and the ninth, owning a 2.43 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 143/30 K/BB ratio in 81 1/3 innings, accrued over just 55 appearances. Of those, 33 appearances included getting four outs or more.
Their differing skillsets and usages will also govern how they're viewed, for fantasy purposes, heading into next spring. While there's still a place for a reliever like Hader, who will help with ratios and, as evidenced by this season, will still pick up a smattering of saves over the course of the year, his usage in a non-traditional role limits his fantasy upside. On the contrary, Diaz operated mainly in the ninth inning with huge success, making him likely to be one of the first relievers off the board -- perhaps the first one -- in many leagues.
Quick Hits: Bryan Holaday has elected to become a free agent. Holaday was outrighted off the Marlins' 40-man roster on Friday after hitting .205/.261/.258 in 166 plate appearances with the Fish this past season. Sirius XM's Craig Mish says Holaday is still open to a potential return to the Marlins ... Dominic Smith parted ways with his Dominican Winter League team after playing in just seven games. The Mets encouraged Smith to play the outfield in winter ball in an effort to improve his defensive versatility. However his team, the Toros del Este, were using him exclusively at first base and he was batting just .133 in seven games so all parties decided to call it quits. Smith may need to play the outfield if he is going to start for the Mets in the next few years. Veteran Jay Bruce is likely to be the starter at first base next year and prospect Peter Alonso has leap-frogged Smith as the Mets' best first base prospect. The 21-year-old has batted just .210/.259/.406 with 14 homers and 37 RBI in 105 games for the Mets over the past two seasons.