LOS ANGELES — In the 15th inning, Rich Hill ate a sandwich. The longest game in the 114-year history of the MLB postseason had just entered its seventh hour and there was no end in sight.
Game 3 of the World Series took seven hours and 20 minutes, 18 innings, 561 pitches, 131 plate appearances, somewhere north of 300 baseballs, a seventh- and a 14th-inning stretch, and at least a few days off the life of everyone who stuck it out. It took enough time to fly from Boston to Los Angeles, more time than the Yankees’ entire four-game sweep of the Reds in the 1939 Fall Classic (7:05). It also took 46 of the 50 players on the two rosters, meaning there were four spectators in the ballpark who experienced one of the oddest nights of their lives. In the end they saw a 3–2 L.A. win that cut the Dodgers’ series deficit to two games to one, but they also saw 34 strikeouts, 21 runners left on base, 12 infield popups, 12 walks, five men playing out of position, three outs on the basepaths and two leads blown when runs scored on errors. They saw, said—of all people—the losing pitching coach, Dana LeVangie, “the greatest baseball game in history.”
To watch a game like that without being allowed to help is excruciating, especially for the kind of control freak who makes it to the highest level of his profession.
“You’re living on the edge of every single pitch,” said Hill.
Of course, even the greatest baseball game in history starts out as just a baseball game. Rookie starter Walker Buehler dominated the Red Sox over seven thrilling, scoreless innings. On the other side, Rick Porcello was good enough through 4 2/3. Down 1–0, manager Alex Cora burned through his relief options in short spurts: one out for Eduardo Rodríguez, two for David Price, both starters by trade. The first of eight pinch hitters, Boston’s Blake Swihart, appeared in the sixth inning.
Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado, who has cultivated a nasty little reputation for himself this October, took 7.17 seconds to meander to first base as he admired what turned out to be a ball off the wall. Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen allowed a solo home run in the eighth to tie the game. Beginning that same frame, the Red Sox began rotating their outfielders when Machado came to bat, a sort of outfield shift. An inning later, Dodgers centerfielder Cody Bellinger took off from first base an instant too early and killed a rally. He redeemed himself moments later, turning a shallow fly ball into an inning-ending double play. (“I wouldn’t have been able to go to sleep tonight,” Bellinger said afterward.) In between, L.A.’s Austin Barnes entered as the first of two pinch runners. Manager Dave Roberts started playing matchups.
The Red Sox’ Chris Sale began advocating for himself in the 11th inning. Cora was down to three pitchers when he called upon Game 4 starter Nathan Eovaldi to start the 12th. Eovaldi entered the game as part of a double switch with catcher Sandy León, the last Boston position player on the bench. Starting catcher Christian Vázquez moved to first base. Only Sale and lefty Drew Pomeranz remained unused.
Sale had started Game 1 after a mysterious stomach ailment cost him 10 pounds and his ALCS Game 5 start, so on Friday night he lounged in the dugout in a sweatshirt and sneakers. But as Eovaldi warmed, Sale approached pitching coach Dana LeVangie. “Do I need to get stretched?” he asked.
“Absolutely not,” LeVangie told him.
As does a child who would really like just one more dessert, Sale tried the other parent, Cora. Same response. Undeterred, the lanky lefty headed up to the clubhouse to change into a jersey and spikes. He returned pointedly to the dugout.
In the meantime, Eovaldi was baffling the Dodgers. He had thrown a perfect inning in Game 1 and then another in Game 2, and for the first time in his career was pitching a third straight game. He retired the side in order.
The top of the 13th arrived. With a man on first, third baseman Eduardo Núñez got tangled with catcher Austin Barnes on a pickoff attempt. Núñez lay sprawled on the ground, but insisted, “I’m not coming out!” when Cora came to check on him.
“Well, you can’t come out,” Cora said. “We have no more players.”
The teams traded run-scoring errors—pitcher Scott Alexander threw away a Núñez grounder, then with a man on second, Red Sox second baseman Ian Kinsler slipped and rushed a throw to first—and headed to the 14th. David Freese, the last Dodgers position player, pinch-hit and grounded out.
Hill had been doing the math all night—O.K., if we don’t do it this inning … O.K., if we don’t do it this inning … —as he wore a path from the dugout to the clubhouse to the training room to the weight room and back again, and although he was scheduled to start Game 4, he decided it might be time for him to intervene. Before he knew it, only he; Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw; Game 2 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu; and two relievers, lefties Julio Urías and Alex Wood, were left. So when Dodgers team chef Tyrone Hall started passing out peanut-butter-honey-and-banana sandwiches in the 15th, Hill grabbed one. By the 16th, he was lobbying Roberts to put him in the game.
Roberts explained that Urías would get one inning, then Wood would be good for two or three. Ryu was up next.
Eovaldi cruised into his fifth inning.
Urías got three outs. His spot was due up second in the lineup in the 17th. Kershaw pinch-hit and lined out to rightfield. Hill kept pacing. Wood entered the game. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt told Ryu to get loose. Ryu went to the training room to stretch.
Pomeranz had been left off both the ALDS and ALCS rosters, and was as surprised as anyone when Cora told him he was an option for the World Series. He had started Friday night in the bullpen, then watched as one by one, his friends trickled away. It was starting to get pretty lonely in there when LeVangie called and told him to start moving around. The 18th would be Eovaldi’s last inning, LeVangie said. Pomeranz would start the 19th.
It never got that far. Eovaldi’s second to last pitch of the night was a 96-mph four-seamer, which first baseman–turned–second baseman Max Muncy fouled off. Eovaldi’s final pitch—his 97th, 36 more than starter Porcello had thrown—was a 91-mph cutter which Muncy launched over the left-centerfield wall. Finally, mercifully, it was over.
Kinsler apologized to Eovaldi after the game for the five innings he had cost him. (The pitcher told him he had nothing to apologize for.) Porcello wept as he considered the magnitude of Eovaldi’s sacrifice. The Dodgers poured Gatorade on one another and beamed in their clubhouse. Sale, Pomeranz, Hill and Ryu watched and participated, a part of it all but also at a remove.
It is an honor to play in the greatest baseball game in history, even if you lose it. But it counts as just one game. The Red Sox still lead the series and appear to be the stronger team. The Dodgers still seem better-positioned heading into Game 4 not having used their planned starter. Game 4 was scheduled to begin less than 17 hours after the conclusion of Game 3. So the players headed home shortly after taking their postgame showers—the 46 who needed them, and the four who didn’t.