The Red Sox rallied for a season-defining win one night after enduring the longest postseason defeat behind the grit and grind that made them the best team in baseball. Now Boston sits on the cusp of cementing its legacy.
LOS ANGELES — A dugout pep talk by Boston pitcher Chris Sale in World Series Game 4 Saturday will take its place in the annals of Red Sox legends with the one by David Ortiz in 2013 Game 4. Both occurred the day after a walkoff loss. Both occurred on the road. Both quickly were followed by a three-run homer in the sixth inning. It was practically a re-mix tape: Stickman riffing Big Papi.
“We’re being shut out by a guy with two pitches!” he barked with his team down 4-0, referencing the high fastballs and filigree curveballs of Dodgers starter Rich Hill. “We’re a good team. Let’s dig down a little deeper.”
Well, that’s the terrestrial radio version, anyway.
It’s a cute story, but the truth is it only goes so far.
“About 15 people have asked me about it already,” Boston outfielder J.D. Martinez said. “People yell in the dugout all the time. I walked right by him.”
Here’s what you need to know about why Boston won Game 4, 9-6, and is handing the ball to David Price (again) tonight to try to win the World Series: no team is better at grinding out at-bats and no team plays a more unselfish brand of baseball. Trying to hold back this team, as the Dodgers know too well, is like trying to hold back water with your hands.
One night the Red Sox absorb the longest loss in World Series history. By the seventh inning the next night they are losing 4-0 and are down to their final seven outs. And all they do is run the Dodgers off the field by scoring the next nine runs.
This was victory number 118 this year for the Red Sox. And this one is their signature game. When the story is told of the 2018 Red Sox, what lingers the most will be losing the 18-inning Ziegfeld follies production that was Game 3, and the next day coming back from four runs down to win Game 4.
“Fly six hours, play seven hours 20 minutes, jet lag … you’re exhausted, yeah,” Martinez said. “But it’s still the World Series. Drink a can of Red Bull.
“I’ve never been on a team where you get punched in the face and come back tomorrow like you’re totally fine. It starts at the top. It starts with A.C.”
A.C. would be Alex Cora, the rookie manager, who may have best defined himself by doing something after Game 4 that almost never has occurred in the history of the 114 World Series: he stepped to a microphone and openly admitted a mistake.
Cora very nearly frittered the game away by sticking too long with starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez.
“I pushed him too hard,” Cora said, who should have replaced him with Joe Kelly or Matt Barnes. “I had Barnsie ready and was actually kicking myself for a few innings before the comeback.”
Rodriguez came out blistering fastballs as hard as he had all year — topping out at 96.5 mph — but by the sixth inning he was gassed. His fastball dropped noticeably, falling from 93-96 mph to 91-93 mph. He threw 42 fastballs at 94 mph and above on the night, but none of them in the sixth. Justin Turner cracked a 92-mph fastball for a double and Yasiel Puig ended this sequence of mediocre fastballs up in the zone with a three-run homer: 91, 92, 92, 93, 92 on consecutive pitches.
No matter. This team had the manager’s back. Home runs by Mitch Moreland (the post-Sale three-run dinger) and Steve Pearce tied the game, and an onslaught of five runs in the ninth put it away.
This is how the Red Sox roll: Cora put lefthanded hitting Brock Holt in the starting lineup against Hill, who is death on lefties (.206, just 26 percent of the plate appearances against him), and Holt wound up in the middle of one rally and at the start of the winning one.
“You know what you’re getting from Brock: a great at-bat,” hitting coach Tim Hyers said. “Lefty, righty, it doesn’t matter.”
There was Price warming up in the bullpen late in the game. When he starts today, he will have pitched or warmed up in five of Boston’s past six playoff games.
There was Moreland and Rafael Devers (single) both coming off the bench and delivering runs with their first swing.
“Everyone here,” Martinez said, “actually wants somebody else to do better than they do. It’s what makes this team really special. You don’t see that too often.”
For all the camaraderie, though, the Red Sox would not be on the cusp of a fourth time in 15 years without the help of the Los Angeles bullpen and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. Much will be made about Roberts pulling Hill after a strikeout for the first out of the seventh. But Roberts later revealed that Hill had told him to watch him closely in the seventh, an indication that he was tiring.
Still, Roberts brought in another lefty, Scott Alexander, to face Holt – a lefty. Why couldn’t Hill, who had thrown 91 pitches, stay in for that one batter? Roberts’ answer made no sense.
“So right there at that point you get an out and we’re talking about hitter to hitter, guys on first base, and you've got a lefty on the bench or in the pen that has done it all year long, getting lefties out, and trying to keep those lefties on the bench, Moreland, Devers,” Roberts said. “So you figure you have a chance to get a guy who matches up really well against Holt, and then to potentially go to Vazquez and keep the other guys off the bench.”
Hold on. “Done it all year long?” The Dodgers didn’t even bother to put Alexander on their NLCS roster.
Think of how Hill was pitching. Roberts took out only the eighth pitcher ever to pitch into the seventh inning of a World Series game and allow only one hit. Nobody had done so since Orlando Hernandez in 1999.
Alexander promptly walked Holt on four sinkers.
Two batters later, Ryan Madson gave up the three-run jack to Moreland.
Worse, though, was what Roberts and the bullpen allowed to happen in the ninth with the game tied. With righty Dylan Floro on the mound, Roberts didn’t have lefty Alex Wood ready for Holt and pinch-hitter Rafael Devers. So Holt and Devers both faced Floro.
Holt doubled with one of those prototypical Bostonian hits: a two-strike abbreviation of a swing to shoot the ball to the opposite field. That meant Roberts — because he didn’t have a lefty ready — had two choices with first base open:
1. Walk Devers and have Floro pitched to righthanders Ian Kinsler and Mookie Betts, who was hitless in his last 11 at-bats.
2. Have Floro pitch to Devers and Kinsler.
Roberts was so worried about Betts that he chose the second option. And so he lost the game letting Devers, who hit .229 against lefties, beat him with an at-bat against a righthander with a World Series game on the line.
The inning then became one big hot mess. The Los Angeles relievers have been so bad that they actually give Roberts some cover for his decision-making.
Madson is the only pitcher in World Series history to allow seven inherited runners to score.
Kenley Jansen has blown three World Series saves in the past two years by allowing game-tying homers.
Alexander, Wood and Kenta Maeda all allowed the first batter they faced to reach base.
When Roberts took Hill out, the Dodgers were eight outs away from making this a real series. He tried six relievers to get them. Every one of them gave up at least one run. The Red Sox became the first team to win a World Series game by scoring runs off seven different pitchers.
If you prefer your narratives elliptical and neat, go ahead and give Sale credit for waking up the club with his dugout oratory. Otherwise, rest assured that the better team has won three of four games in this series. The 2018 Red Sox are one win away from cementing a legacy far bigger than Sale’s speech. They could join the 1909 Pirates, 1927 Yankees, 1970 Orioles, 1975 Reds, 1986 Mets and 1998 Yankees as the only teams to lead their league in runs, win 108 or more games and win the World Series. These guys, even on little sleep, are relentless.