LOS ANGELES — Eighteen thoughts on the Dodgers’ 3-2, 18-inning victory over the Red Sox in Game 3 of the World Series…
1. What fun is an epic if you’re on the wrong end of it? Game 3 of the 2018 World Series was a classic — full of twists and turns and the brilliant and bizarre – even before the Dodgers’ Max Muncy put a big, fat exclamation point on it with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 18th inning. This was baseball lore creating itself in real time, one of those games that you’ll be seeing in full during some slow winter evening on the MLB Network a decade from now – especially if they have eight hours they need to fill since it lasted 7 hours and 20 minutes. But for Red Sox fans, at least right now, until the final outcome of this World Series is known, it is not a classic. It was sports torture, the kind that leaves you wondering why you stayed up, the kind that you never need to see on television again, because you’ve already replayed it so many times in your mind.
2. Ian Kinsler has played 1,849 major league games, playoffs included, and I’d bet he’s never had one quite as bad as Friday’s, even without considering the stakes. He didn’t even enter the game until the 10th inning, when he came in as a pinch-runner for J.D. Martinez and promptly ran around the bases like his cleats were on fire, nearly getting picked off first, getting away with an overslide at third, and then getting thrown out by Cody Bellinger at the plate on what would have been a go-ahead Eduardo Nunez sacrifice fly. Dave Roberts might have looked at him from the Dodgers dugout and thought, “Wow, that guy is the opposite of me.”
3. Kinsler should be so lucky to have the baserunning gaffe(s) as the lasting memory of his performance. Instead, he made a blunder that assures him of a place in Red Sox postseason ignominy, though the precise place won’t be determined until this series is complete. Know this: The game should have been over. It was over, had the play remained as fundamental to the end as it initially seemed. With two outs in the 13th, the Red Sox leading, 2-1, and Max Muncy on second base, Yasiel Puig hit a hard grounder to second. Kinsler ranged to field it – at this point, it looked like Pokey Reese’s play that ended the 2004 ALCS – and then it all went wrong.
4. Kinsler’s back leg slipped on the grass – the divot was immediately noticeable. It should not have been disastrous. But instead of gathering himself and making sure he had his footing, he did not hesitate, slinging the ball to first base. He would have had to be trying to make a poor throw to make one worse than he did. The ball sailed wide of first baseman Christian Vazquez, far enough away that Muncy could rumble home from second base to tie the game. It’s easy for us to say that Kinsler should have taken a beat to make sure his feet were set, or even eaten the ball. In the heat of the moment, there’s only a fraction of a second to know what to do. His 1,800-plus previous games did not help him. You might sympathize with him, a player whose career perception may have changed tonight, if you weren’t so damn mad at him.
5. I’m not sure there’s ever been another postseason game in baseball history in which the losing pitcher was one of the true heroes of the game. But that is absolutely the case after Game 3. Nathan Eovaldi, who has endured two Tommy John surgeries, was pitching in his fourth straight game, and was scheduled to be the Game 4 starter, gave the Red Sox six – SIX –innings of superb relief, holding the Dodgers scoreless through the first five before Muncy struck in the 18th. Eovaldi threw 97 pitches – 36 more than Red Sox starter Rick Porcello – and was extraordinary inning after inning. The Red Sox lost. The box score says “L, 0-1” next to Eovaldi’s name. But that was anything but a losing performance.
6. Red Sox manager Alex Cora went for the kill, most notably by going to Eovaldi and riding him for so long in trying to build a 3-0 series lead. But it also manifested earlier in using David Price in relief, getting more than an inning out of Craig Kimbrel, and other focused-on-this-moment decisions along the way. His aggressiveness has served him well time and again this season, but it’s impossible after the outcome is known not to wonder whether it might backfire now. The what-ifs from this game have become what-nows for Game 4, with Eduardo Rodriguez (who faced just one batter) and Drew Pomeranz (who was the last arm in the bullpen for about three hours) their most rested pitchers. It’s not a complaint, because boldness is a reason for the Red Sox’ success, and if not for Kinsler’s blunder it would have worked. But navigating Game 4 got much more difficult because of how he managed Game 3.
7. The aggressiveness also played a part in the mishmash of a lineup the Red Sox were stuck with over the last half-dozen innings or so. Cora sent in Kinsler to run for Martinez in the 10th, taking the Hank Aaron Award Winner out for, as it turned out, the last eight innings. It wasn’t foreseeable that he’d miss so many potential at-bats, but it did hurt. Steve Pearce pinch-hit for Craig Kimbrel in the 11th, but it was just a cameo, with Christian Vazquez having to play first base for the first time since he was in Single A. Heck, Eovaldi, who has a .197 OPS in his career, had to bat twice from the No. 3 spot in the lineup, while Andrew Benintendi had just a single at-bat as a pinch-hitter. Eduardo Nunez did have two hits after coming in for Rafael Devers back at a reasonable hour, but once again he played like his torso was rebelling against his limbs. There were simply too many at-bats when the Red Sox were hoping for a fluke.
8. The few regulars who remained in the lineup all night basically combined to have a lousy month in a single game. Mookie Betts was 0 for 7 with a walk, Xander Bogaerts was 0 for 8 and left the bases loaded with a two-out, two-foot dribbler in front of the plate in the 13th inning, and the top four spots in the lineup overall were 0 for 28. I don’t know how the Sox remedy what’s going on with Betts and Bogaerts. Both look like they could use a day off, but that can’t be an option in the World Series.
9. It really did feel like two separate games were played. All of the following sounds familiar, but does it seem recent? Walker Buehler pitched seven innings with such excellence that Sandy Koufax stood and clapped for him. Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a tying home run in the eighth inning, evening the score at 1-1, because those are the things Jackie Bradley Jr. apparently does in October. Starter Rick Porcello pitched well, and yet the Red Sox had used seven pitchers through nine innings, including Price. That portion of the game might as well have taken place last weekend for how distant it feels now.
10. If anyone had an issue with Benintendi sitting to start the game instead of Jackie Bradley Jr., I assume that was resolved when Bradley took Kenley Jansen deep to tie the game at 1 in the 8th. But it shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place. Benintendi is a fine left fielder with a couple of excellent catches this postseason, the series-clincher versus Houston possibly qualifying as iconic if/when the Red Sox win it all. But Bradley is an otherworldly center fielder, the best the Red Sox have had in my lifetime and I’d bet yours too, and with Martinez in left, his range was necessary. The gaps would have been wide in that outfield with Martinez in left and Benintendi in center. Martinez played 280 innings in left field this year, while Benintendi played 191 in center. That’s some iffy defense for a World Series.
11. Don’t take this as a gripe about the Red Sox offense. They had just seven hits in Game 3, but they entered Game 3 with a team slash line this postseason of .261/.345/.404, good for the second-best OPS among playoff teams (.749 with the Astros somehow finishing at .841). That’s more than acceptable, and they just happened to run into a buzzsaw in Buehler. He was phenomenal, never more so than when he struck out Martinez on a 98 mph fastball to end the seventh, his 108th pitch of the game. Joc Pederson gave the Dodgers a one-run lead with his solo homer in the third inning. Buehler made it feel like a five-run lead.
12. OK, now for what might be interpreted as a gripe: The Red Sox’ degree of difficulty over these next two games (minimum) would be lowered if Betts and Benintendi (I know, when he’s in there) would start hitting with some pop. Betts is still searching for the first postseason home run of his career (89 plate appearances after Game 3), and he’s gone 70 PAs without one after homering three straight games from Sept. 22-24. Benintendi is an even stranger case. He has two homers in 330 plate appearances since July 8 – or as many as Bradley had in the ALCS.
13. I read somewhere earlier Friday that the Red Sox hit velocity better than any team in baseball and that Buehler could be facing a long night. Seven shutout innings later, with just two singles and not a single walk to show for their efforts, it was rather clear that Buehler has much more to his repertoire than just velocity. If your rooting interest in this game was for anything other than the Red Sox, you probably found it refreshing to see a starter pitch deep into the game rather than get yanked when the batting order was coming around for the third time. When Buehler came out after 108 pitches, it felt like a reprieve for the Red Sox.
14. “Analytics” has become the catch-all expletive for fans who want to complain about new and unorthodox changes to the game. In a way, I get it. It just seems strange when a starting pitcher is getting the job done and yet comes out of the game at a point history and conventional wisdom tell us is early. Rick Porcello was very good for the Red Sox Friday night, allowing just three hits and a run on 61 pitches – and yet he’s gone after 4.2 innings. (They might need him Saturday.) It does make sense strategically – his spot in the order was coming up, and it was logical to bring in a lefty to face Pederson, who hit .170 against southpaws this year. It just doesn’t jibe with baseball’s past very well, and it’s going to take a few more seasons of getting used to. But it’s not going away.
15. On the other hand, analytics surely helped the Red Sox to do some really inspired things this postseason. It’s been compelling and rewarding to watch them use Porcello, Eovaldi, Chris Sale and – for three batters Friday, fan-favorite David Price — as “rovers.” Hey, who needs a setup man at the trade deadline when you can just use your starters? And then there was the shell game Cora played with his outfielders starting in the eighth inning, when he moved Bradley to left, Betts to center, and Martinez to right against Manny Machado, who tries to jack everything over the left field wall. Wasn’t that proof that unconventional can be fun?
16. Dave Roberts got a lot of grief for being so loyal to his platoons and not using lefty hitters Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, and Joc Pederson more in Boston, even with Chris Sale and David Price starting Games 1 and 2. But the only one who might have had a case to play against a lefty is Muncy, who had an .891 OPS with 8 homers in 102 at-bats against lefties this season. Pederson was brutal (.512 OPS, 1 homer in just 57 plate appearances). Bellinger played every game for the Dodgers this year but was subpar against lefties (.681 OPS, six homers in 186 at-bats). The problem in Boston was that he didn’t use his lefty hitters more. It’s that the righty hitters weren’t very good.
17. Machado is a terrific player, a franchise-cornerstone-type, perhaps one of the top dozen talents in baseball. But man, there’s a lot of mustard on that hot dog, and his antics must get annoying even for the fans that are rooting for him. Machado hit a rocket to left field in the sixth inning. It looked like it had a chance to go out, but didn’t really come close, and he ended up hitting the brakes at first base because he went into showboat mode as soon as he hit it. It was so egregious Yasiel Puig probably told him he should hustle more. Here’s hoping Machado signs with the Yankees in the offseason. It’s been a while since they’ve had a villain at shortstop who was also a great player.
18. Sure, that one felt like two losses, probably because it had the length of two losses. But it counts as just one. The Red Sox lead the World Series, 2-1. Win just one here, and they come home with two shots at wrapping it up at Fenway. Win two here, and they’re celebrating on the Dodgers’ turf. Probably worth remembering this morning.