There were a few moments when Friday night’s Game 3 appeared over.
First, it was Eduardo Nuñez’s apparently harmless chopper toward the mound, at most a swinging sacrifice bunt. What should have been a routine play for relief pitcher Scott Alexander became the disaster of the Dodgers’ season—he flipped the ball toward an unprepared Kiké Henandez, which would dribble down the rightfield line to score Holt from first and what should have become the clinching run of Boston’s third consecutive win of the World Series.
But it wasn’t.
It appeared over when Yasiel Puig stepped up to the plate with two outs, Boston just one out from a third win. Max Muncy was on second base and a fairly fresh Nathan Eovaldi on the hill with a one-run lead. That was until Ian Kinsler fielded the kind of grounder he’s fielded hundreds, likely thousands of times in his big league career. Instead, the veteran second baseman muffed his throw to first base, allowing Muncy to score and Puig to celebrate at first instead of taking second base. After that, Austin Barnes flew out and the game extended into the 14th inning.
It appeared over when Max Muncy drove a Nathan Eovaldi pitch deep into rightfield, its majestic arc cresting toward the rightfield foul pole.
And then it went foul. And then Muncy struck out.
The game went longer.
And then the 18th inning came by. Nathan Eovaldi, the elected Red Sox starter for Game 4, was nearing 100 pitches as the emergency relief pitcher. And then Muncy drove a ball to the opposite field that landed in the stands to clinch Game 3 for the Dodgers and reinvigorate a series that looked destined for a Boston win. It was the first World Series walk-off homer for the Dodgers since Game 1 of the 1988 Fall Classic, when Kirk Gibson homered off of Dennis Eckersley to elevate the Dodgers to a Game 1 win.
The series is now 2–1 in Boston's favor. Here are three thoughts about life before extra innings.
Walker Buehler was fabulous
On a team with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler is the best pitcher in the 2018 playoffs. With a season-high 108 pitches, Buehler shut the Red Sox down to the tune of two hits, no walks and seven strikeouts over seven innings. He retired his last 14 hitters, four of his seven strikeouts were against MVP candidates Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez and he never allowed a runner to reach second base. With an arsenal of pitches that includes a four-seam fastball that touches 98 mph, a cutter that reaches 96 and a knuckle-curve to keep hitters off-balance, Buehler mastered a Boston lineup that no starting pitcher has quite figured out through the entire playoffs.
The 24-year-old rookie continued his stretch as L.A.’s best big-game pitcher. He’s more or less thrown two bad pitches throughout the playoffs that have produced six earned runs—a grand slam surrendered to Ronald Acuña in Game 3 and a short-porch two-run homer to Orlando Arcia in Game 3. Otherwise, Buehler’s been nails. HIs Game 7 start against the Brewers wasn’t technically a win—he pitched just 4 ⅔ innings—but struck out seven and limited Milwaukee to just one run.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is Mr. Clutch
The Dodgers were never going to beat the Red Sox with just one run, and Jackie Bradley Jr. made sure of that with his eighth-inning home run off of Kenley Jansen. After Jansen carved his way through Brock Holt and Rafael Devers, Bradley took a 2–0 cutter to the rightfield seats for another crucial home run for the Red Sox. After his Game 3 grand slam against Houston that made David Ortiz lose his mind on set followed by a moonshot off of Josh James in Game 4, Bradley has emerged as the clutch hitter in baseball’s most powerful offense.
His home run off of Jansen might be the one Red Sox fans remember him for most. In a year when virtually every Boston hitter was near a career year, Bradley struggled through a disastrous first half, slashing .210/.297/.345 with just six homers over his first 82 games. Since then, Bradley has hit arguably the three biggest home runs of the Boston season.
The Dodgers offense is not playing well enough to win
Brilliant outings like Walker Buehler’s aren’t going to come around every night, and the Dodgers still managed to give him just one run of support before his exit. Through three games, the Dodgers have just nine runs over 36 innings.
With the Red Sox least effective starter on the hill, L.A. managed just a solo home run from Joc Pederson on a flat changeup. Potential $350 million man Manny Machado was up with the go-ahead run on first base in the eighth ininng and he struck out. Then the Dodgers had the winning run on second base in the ninth inning and pinch hitter Brian Dozier fouled out to the catcher. Max Muncy hit a ground-rule double with two outs in the tenth inning, only for Machado to pop up and strand him in scoring position. If clutch hitting is a specialty of the Red Sox, it’s a major issue for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have rendered runners in scoring position generally useless because of their ability to hit the longball, but it continues to haunt them as they have hit just three homers—Pederson’s solo shot, Matt Kemp’s Game 1 homer off of Chris Sale, and Muncy's 18th-inning blast—over the first three games of the series. The homers have been fortunate, but the Dodgers will need some stability if they want to win it all.