By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We really can’t underestimate how bad things would have been if the Red Sox had not embarked on their umpteenth gutsy comeback of the season in Game 4 of the World Series.
On one half of the ledger, the Dodgers would have all of the unquantifiable/intangible/metaphysical momentum working in their favor. The Dodgers would have an 18-inning victory and a dominant follow-up performance in their hat, and they’d have a whole lot of confidence working in their favor after evening the series at two games apiece, with Game 5 set to take place in Los Angeles.
On the other side, in a strictly concrete sense, the Red Sox would be in some real trouble. A stagnant offense and an overworked pitching staff is a bad combination. Whether or not you believe in momentum, you have to believe in production. And the Red Sox, over the course of nearly 24 innings in Los Angeles, weren’t getting enough of it. Facing Clayton Kershaw in a 2-2 series seemed like a daunting task.
But, as we all know by now, none of that is happening. The Red Sox, as they seemingly always do, delivered a comeback for the ages. After scoring just two runs in their previous 27 innings of this series, and after failing to even get a runner to second base through six innings of Game 4, the Boston bats exploded for a nine-run offensive outburst from innings 7-9 on Saturday night.
The Red Sox rendered meaningless any and all lasting effects from the historic 18-inning loss in game 4. They shook off six innings of offensive utility. They made Dave Roberts pay for every single shaky decision. And they came through, once again, with the whole world watching.
Call it whatever you want. It was significant, it was impressive, it was unbelievable, astonishing, and ridiculous.
But from a Dodgers perspective, it was devastating. The significance of that swing — from being seven outs away from tying the series, to suddenly facing elimination, all in the blink of an eye — cannot be overstated.
The Red Sox, the best team in baseball from April through October, now have three chances to win one game in order to secure their title.
As we all wait for first pitch in Game 5, here are some leftover thoughts from that late-night 9-6 comeback win in Game 4.
–Just like in Game 1, I’m struck by how many different players contributed to the win. Here’s everyone who can feel good about their significant contributions to the Game 4 win:
Rafael Devers: Hit the go-ahead RBI single in the ninth as a pinch hitter; made a difficult play to retire Manny Machado in ninth inning.
Brock Holt: Walked on four pitches prior to Mitch Moreland’s 3-run HR; doubled in 9th, then scored on Devers’ single.
Mitch Moreland: Hit a baseball into outer space to cut L.A.’s lead to 4-3 in the seventh.
Xander Bogaerts: Walked prior to Moreland’s homer; singled home Boston’s ninth run in ninth inning.
Steve Pearce: Obviously crushed a solo homer in the eighth to tie the game, then drove in three runs with a double in the ninth, scoring what proved to be the winning runs.
Andrew Benintendi: Barely beat out an infield single prior to Pearce’s three-run double.
Joe Kelly: Two scoreless — albeit stressful — innings of relief.
Eduardo Rodriguez: Pitched five extremely effective innings, before Alex Cora left him in too long; would have gotten out of sixth if not for a Christian Vazquez throwing error.
Craig Kimbrel: It took him a moment to adjust, but he ultimately did record the final three outs of the game.
Every night, it’s a different cast and crew. But the list is generally very long.
–Craziest of all is that it now looks like the Red Sox can actually win a World Series without getting much production at all from Mookie Betts AND Chris Sale. Despite making solid contact twice in Game 4, Betts is now 0-for-11 since the series shifted to Los Angeles, and he’s 4-for-19 (.211) overall with just one extra-base hit in the series.
Meanwhile Sale has been cemented in the Boston dugout, despite the availability of everybody else on the rest of the pitching staff. He lasted just four innings in Game 1, allowing three runs in that time. With David Price taking his start in Game 5, it’s possible that Sale won’t pitch again this postseason.
Sale is obviously working through some physical issues. With Betts — the presumed Most Valuable Player of the American League — the answers aren’t quite as clear.
If someone had been asked a week ago what position the Red Sox would be in if Betts and Sale were doing this? I’m not sure how anyone could respond with “3-1 lead.” But that is how deep the contributions have been from the Red Sox. They’re not relying on one guy to do it all — or, in this case, much at all.
–I shouldn’t say that Chris Sale is giving them nothing. He’s at least giving them this:
How Alex Cora didn’t immediately hand this man a bat, I’ll never know. But Cora had a great description of what was said.
“My English is very limited,” Cora joked, “so I didn’t understand what he was saying.”
Rafael Devers admitted that he was legitimately frightened.
“At that moment, that was huge because it motivated us. It scared me a little bit because I had never seen him yell like that and the words that he was saying, I had never heard that come from him before,” Devers said. “But, you know, we came out sluggish and that moment helped us get motivated for the rest of the game.”
Devers looks like he’s 15 years old (aside from the fact that he’s hitting go-ahead RBI singles in the ninth inning of a World Series game), so it’s very on band to be scared of the scary swearing man in the dugout.
–The play Devers made to retire Machado was no joke.
Devers was asked if he can recall ever making as big a play on as big of a stage as that one.
“I think the last time was in Little League, probably, making a play like that,” he said.
Just a hunch, but the play on Friday night was probably bigger than the Little League scoop.
–The Red Sox remained in complete awe of Nathan Eovaldi’s Game 3 effort, despite the hard-throwing righty ultimately taking the loss. And with good reason. Sure, it’s not the greatest sports story in the world that a starting pitcher is able to throw 97 pitches and get through six-plus innings of relief work. But, well, he was incredibly effective for that entire outing, right up until the walk-off homer, and the appreciation from his teammates is the culmination of the respect he’s earned over the past several months and certainly over the past several weeks.
Eovaldi entered this postseason with just eight career relief appearances in 156 career outings. This playoffs, he’s made two starts and four relief appearances. He is 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA, a 0.806 WHIP, two holds, 16 strikeouts and just three walks.
And considering Craig Kimbrel has thrown 56 combined pitches over the past two nights, don’t be stunned if Eovaldi is called upon to close out Game 5 if a World Series is within reach.
Here’s just a sampling of what the Red Sox have said about Eovaldi.
Joe Kelly: “That was unbelievable. It doesn’t surprise me anymore. That guy is squatting 500 pounds pregame. He’s an animal. He’s a big, strong Texas kid. And he goes out there and battles. He’s a gamer. So to watch that performance as a pitcher, you know, there’s no complaints. I woke up this morning sore, thought about Nate, and Nate’s probably even more sore. Just try to get some momentum off that guy and come in the game, thinking to myself, if I could pitch half as good as Nate, it might go well. He grinded out there. And that was very, very impressive. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on a baseball field before. It was awesome.”
Brock Holt: “What Nate did [in Game 3] was one of the coolest things, one of the most impressive things that I’ve ever seen on a baseball field. And for him to take the loss, it wasn’t right. But I think all of us in uniform, coaching staff, players, I mean, you saw what he did for us, and I think we took that and we didn’t want to just let that performance just wither away. I was in left field last night in his fifth inning, sixth inning, whatever it was, he’s at 90 pitches, and he’s still throwing the ball 99 miles an hour. He gave everything he’s got for us. And I think that speaks volumes to this team, how we all care about each other, we all love each other, and we play for each other. And he proved that last night.”
Mitch Moreland: “Man, how could it not [inspire you]? Even if you don’t play baseball, what he’s been able to do obviously coming in those first two games and shutting the door for us late … [and he stood] out there [in Game 3] and just carried us. And everybody was trying so hard to get some runs for the guy. But, yeah, that was special. That’s something that’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen on a baseball field. Me and Joe were actually kidding in the dugout, like he said, ‘I pitched that inning for him.’ And I said, ‘I hit that homer for him.’ Yeah, he definitely, he led the way for us. And that’s what our team is about. We lean on each other. And believe in each other. He did a great job for us.”
Chris Sale: “That was nothing short of incredible. What he did [in Game 3] I think picked us up as a team. … I don’t know if Nate’s ever thrown back-to-back days in his career. And then to come out after one day off, throwing back-to-back days to throw into the seventh inning of a game that was high leverage, high intensity, that’s everything you want in a ballplayer and a teammate. He picked us up big time last night. And obviously he’s our veteran, but I’ll never forget what he did.”
Cora shared a story that proved to be the ultimate ballplayer moment for Eovaldi.
When he struck out [Justin] Turner [to end the 17th inning], he comes in, and I’m like — I went in with him,” Cora shared. “I said, ‘How do you feel?’ He said, ‘I’m ready to bunt Bogey over.’ And I said, ‘Okay, you feel great.’ Actually at one point he said, ‘Let me finish this.'”
Eovaldi didn’t get to finish that game the way he wanted, but it’s clear that his teammates did their best the following night to make sure that such an effort didn’t go wasted.
–Nate Eovaldi is going to be a rich man soon, also. Now would be a great time for his teammates to ask to borrow 50 bucks from him. They’ll never have to pay him back.
–There were some great photographs in this game, particularly of the swings that Moreland and Pearce delivered:
(Side note: Dave Roberts, how are you putting Ryan Madson into any game at this point? Good gravy.)
Here’s the exact moment Devers knew his groud ball was getting through the infield to put the Red Sox ahead in the ninth:
Some of the pictures of Yasiel Puig’s celebration would have been iconic, if not for the final result of the game:
–One thing you have to appreciate about Alex Cora is how easily he admits when he is wrong. Some managers — hey, we don’t need to name names (John Farrell) — struggled to do that, even in the face of an obvious mistake.
Cora admitted after the win that he was wrong — plain and simple, wrong — to keep Eduardo Rodriguez in the game to get out of the sixth inning.
“I pushed him too hard. I pushed him too hard. I pushed him too hard,” Cora said. “We felt the matchup was good for us, that matchup is good for us when Eddie is fresh, and he’s able to get that fastball up. I had [Matt Barnes] ready and I was actually kicking myself for a few innings before the comeback.”
Granted, it’s a lot easier to admit a mistake when you’re speaking after a victory. But based on the way Cora’s carried himself all year, it’s fair to assume he’d have said the same thing even if that moment had proven to be the one that lost his team the game.
–There’s still one more game to win, and there’s obviously a fair amount of luck involved with this particular matter, but Dave Dombrowski couldn’t look any better right about now. We all lamented the bullpen woes all year, and we all said it would be an Achilles’ heel come October, and we were all wrong. Little did we know that Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes and Nathan Eovaldi — the suddenly dominant setup guy and long man — were going to be savior.
Meanwhile, Dombrowski can sit up in his booth knowing that in order to acquire Eovaldi and Steve Pearce, he surrendered a minor league infielder and a 25-year-old pitcher with a 5.51 ERA. The Red Sox would absolutely not be where they are, ahead 3-1 in the World Series, without those two acquisitions.
–Winning Game 5 will be no cinch for Boston. Clayton Kershaw is 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA and a 0.467 WHIP in his two home starts thus far in the postseason. He’s struck out 12 and walked just two.
The L.A. hitters may be a bit deflated, but the Dodgers are almost certain to get a strong outing from their starter.
–After Game 2, I marveled at just how quickly the Red Sox could flip a game on its head. From trailing 2-0 with the bases empty and two outs and two strikes to the No. 9 hitter, to suddenly trailing 4-2 and losing the game, the Dodgers learned a hard lesson in Fenway Park.
You’d think that might have made them more aware in Game 5. But they weren’t. This time they blew an even bigger lead in what seemed like a totally preventable situation. They went from leading 4-0 in the seventh, to finding themselves in a 9-4 hole. That must be endlessly frustrating for the Dodgers and their fan base, but at this point, it should be widely accepted that this is just what the Red Sox do.
It’s no coincidence that the Red Sox keep doing this. They did it to the defending champs, and they’re now doing it to the Dodgers. It will be the signature mark of their (presumed) championship run.