LOS ANGELES — Contrary to what the marketing materials draped across Dodger Stadium and Fenway Park would have you believe, YouTube does baseball a disservice. Baseball has its Gibson home runs and Jeter flips and Robinson steals of home, but the beauty lies in the pauses in between.
This qualifies as a hot take in an age of four-hour games, and let’s be clear: No one wants to watch pitchers count every stitch on the baseball before delivering it. But amid the energy and chaos and motion, when the action is telling the story of the players, the moments of charged stillness tell the story of the humans.
We know now that the Red Sox won Game 4 of the World Series 9–6 on Saturday to bring themselves within one victory of a championship. But when Dodgers rightfielder Yasiel Puig beat out a double play in the eighth inning of a game tied at 4, all he knew was that his team still had a chance. Puig, 27, drives onlookers, opponents and occasionally teammates crazy with his antics—overthrowing cutoff men, admiring home runs—but his passion is obvious. He came here from Cuba under circumstances he does not discuss, and even as his time in the majors has been tumultuous, including a 2016 demotion to Triple A, he knows how lucky he is to be in Los Angeles, chasing something as wonderful and frivolous as a World Series.
This was the second time in three hours that he keyed a potential rally.
In the sixth inning of a 1–0 game, with both starting pitchers tiring and both bullpens depleted after the 18-inning debacle of the night before, Puig stepped to the plate with runners on the corners. Although he is righthanded, Puig had hit only .209 against lefties this season, so Boston manager Alex Cora allowed southpaw Eduardo Rodríguez to face him. Puig connected with a 3–1 two-seamer, dropped his bat and shot his arms into the air. He watched the ball sail so surely into the leftfield stands that the outfielders barely moved toward it. He trotted so slowly around the bases that he had not even reached first when the ball landed. (Cora later apologized to Rodríguez for not putting him in a position to be successful.)
By the time Puig next came to bat, the game was tied at 4. He legged out that fielder’s choice and boldly advanced to third on a Chris Taylor single to left. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts removed righthanded catcher Austin Barnes in favor of switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal, against Boston fireballing righty Joe Kelly.
With two outs, Grandal looked at four four-seamers, none slower than 98 mph, two balls and two strikes. The fifth pitch was high and inside. Grandal swung through it.
Kelly pounded his chest with his right hand and let out a roar. Grandal slammed his bat into the ground, then stalked back to the dugout. The rest of the players cleared the field. The umpires rearranged themselves. Fans streamed up the aisles, toward bathrooms and concessions. A Dodgers hype video began to play on the jumbotron. Puig stood absolutely still, for nearly half a minute.
We cannot know what he was thinking. He left without speaking with reporters. But he stood there, while around him his dream faded bit by bit, until Taylor arrived from first base. Then Puig turned, and they walked slowly back to the dugout together.
Another moment of calm came in the midst of an even greater storm. Half an inning later, with the score still tied, Red Sox second baseman Brock Holt watched from the on-deck circle as third baseman Eduardo Núñez popped out in foul territory. Holt was 1–2 with two walks on the night, but he was an odd choice to start the game, a lefthanded hitter facing a tough lefthanded pitcher in the Dodgers’ Rich Hill. Holt is sanguine about his limitations: When Cora informed him that he would start Game 3 of the ALDS versus the Yankees’ Luis Severino, against whom he was 1-for-15, Holt texted back, “Are you sure?” But Cora liked the matchup, and the 30-year-old Holt also trusts his manager. After all, he hit for the cycle that night in New York. The achievement capped the best year of his career, when he hit .277 as Boston’s super-utilityman after losing parts of two seasons to post-concussion syndrome.
The ninth-inning matchup against righty Dylan Floro seemed to favor Holt. He got a sinker outside and slapped it the other way, where it stayed just fair. He chugged into second base with a stand-up, helmet-off double. Eventually he would pump his fist and scream, “Let’s go!,” but first, he bent his knees and paused. It was just a second or two, but it stood out as the fielders around him raced to contain the damage. He was the only sharp figure, surrounded by blur.
We cannot know what Holt was thinking, either, but not because he was unwilling to discuss it. He just has no idea. He does not even remember taking that instant for himself. “I was in the moment,” he said after the game.
He meant the other kind of moment, the kind you can see when you watch the game on TV. The camera pans away when the action ends. One batter later, Holt would score the go-ahead run. He raced around third base and across the plate, then he headed for the dugout, motoring all the way. He never broke stride.