LOS ANGELES — 1. The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the World Series, 3-2.
2. The score is all that matters, right? Two teams get together, they play, one finishes with more runs than the other, that team wins. For 114 seasons, baseball teams have pursued a championship this way. Years from now, when the game that started Friday at 5:10 p.m. local time and finished early Saturday morning is in the record books, it will say Dodgers 3, Red Sox 2.
3. Hold on a second. Friday and Saturday? Exactly what kind of game was this? Well, the score doesn’t exactly capture that. So how about this: Sometimes there are baseball games that blur the line of amazing and awful, that stretch on interminably and somehow still pulsate with tension. A lead, a tie. An unlikely lead, an unlikelier tie. A World Series game in which the pitcher who allowed a walk-off home run is almost as much a hero — maybe even more of one — than the guy who hit it. “Honestly,” Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger said, “that was miserable. I thought there was a point where the game was never going to end.” His teammate, Kiké Hernández, said: “At the end of the day, as a baseball fan, it was a beautiful game.” And the weird thing was that both of them were right.
4. They had been talking earlier in the day, Bellinger and Hernández, before Game 3 even started. Baseball players, it should be understood, talk far more than any human being should at work. They get to the stadium four hours before the game. They talk inside the clubhouse, during batting practice, shagging fly balls, on the bench, in the field, anywhere and everywhere. Talk that much, and ridiculous things are said. And in this case, when they were talking before Game 3, Hernández said: “This game might go 20 innings.” He said it because baseball players are superstitious. They know when they talk about a game going fast, it inevitably runs extra innings, so saying the game was going 20 meant it was going to go nine. Right?
5. It looked that way, you know. A 24-year-old Dodgers rookie named Walker Buehler threw seven of the most gorgeous innings of baseball you’ll ever see. He stared down a Red Sox team that won the first two games of the series, challenged them with fastballs and cutters and curveballs and changeups and sliders, and watched them flail. No pitcher had thrown seven shutout innings in the World Series since Yordano Ventura in 2014. Dodgers left fielder Joc Pederson had yanked a home run down the right-field line in the third inning. That 1-0 lead stood up through the seventh, which ended when Buehler blew his 108th and final pitch of the night by J.D. Martinez. The game was 2 hours, 10 minutes old.
6. It did not end for another 5 hours, 10 minutes.
7. Let’s do the math: 2+5 … 10+10 … that’s 7 hours, 20 minutes. For a baseball game. It’s easy to look at the eighth inning as the chief culprit. In came Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ closer. Manager Dave Roberts asked him for a six-out save, something he hadn’t done all postseason. Jansen didn’t even make it halfway. He tried to backdoor his signature pitch, the cut fastball, over the outside corner to left-handed-hitting Jackie Bradley Jr. Jansen missed. Bradley did not. Almost 400 feet later, Game 3 was tied.
8. And it stayed that way through the eighth, the ninth, the 10th, the 11th, the 12th. The sun that cast a shadow on the 53,114 who packed Dodger Stadium had ceded to the moon that hung over Chavez Ravine. Some people had left. Most hadn’t. The oddities of the earlier innings — Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado inexplicably not running out a ball he believed would be a home run but one-hopped the left-field wall — faded into footnotes. The 13th inning awaited. It was time to get weird.
9. Here’s the thing about baseball: When a game gets longer, it’s not always better. At the end of basketball games, you know the best player is taking the final shot, and at the end of football games, the ball is in the quarterback’s hands. Baseball teams exhaust their best pitchers early in extra innings. By this point, especially in games governed by National League rules, a number of starting position players are out of the game because of double switches or pinch hitting to gain a platoon advantage. In the 10th, Martinez walked and had been pinch run for by Ian Kinsler, who almost got picked off first base, overslid third and nearly was caught there, and got thrown out at home by Bellinger trying to score on a flyout to center field by Eduardo Núñez. It was not the worst moment of Kinsler’s night.
10. So the 13th. Núñez was catnip for the peculiar. Brock Holt drew a leadoff walk from Dodgers reliever Scott Alexander, who then bounced a pitch that wound up between Núñez’s legs. As Holt broke toward second base, catcher Austin Barnes undercut Núñez and almost flipped him. He told Red Sox manager Alex Cora he wanted to stay in the game. Cora told him: “Well, you can’t come out. We have no more players.” Núñez swung and tapped a weak ground ball. First baseman Max Muncy and Alexander broke in. Alexander grabbed the ball. Hernández tried to cover first by sprinting out of the shift that stationed him near second. Alexander’s flip caromed away. Holt scored. Boston led, 2-1.
11. Nathan Eovaldi was in for the Red Sox. He was supposed to be their Game 3 starter. Then he pitched in relief in Game 1, which pushed him to their Game 4 starter. He pitched in Game 2, too. Then Cora called on him in Game 3 to pitch the 12th, following starter Rick Porcello and seven relievers (including David Price, who had started and won Game 2 on Wednesday). Because when a three-games-to-none lead feels possible, you manage aggressively, and a postseason of spot-on decision making had only emboldened Cora. He brought Eovaldi back for the 13th, which mirrored the top of the inning. Muncy drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second when Núñez caught a foul ball and catapulted himself into the stands. With two outs, Cora elected to pitch to Yasiel Puig instead of walking him and facing the less-dangerous Austin Barnes. Puig hit a groundball to Kinsler.
12. “I had the last out in my glove,” Ian Kinsler said.
13. If he doesn’t stumble, or just holds onto the ball, or gathers himself. “If.” There are so many ifs. If Nelson Cruz just reaches … out … a little … more. If that happens, and he squeezes the ball hit by David Freese in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Texas Rangers are champions and Kinsler has his World Series ring. “If” is the most dangerous word in sports, because it supposes a reality that isn’t. The reality is that Friday, at 10:43 p.m., more than 5½ hours into Game 3 of the World Series, with a 2-1 lead and two outs, Kinsler chucked a ball up the first-base line, far out of the reach of Christian Vázquez, a stout catcher who had moved to first because the Red Sox were out of position players. Muncy scored. It was 2-2. It was beautiful. It was miserable.
14. Only three previous World Series games had reached the 14th inning. None had gone to the 15th. Or 16th. Or 17th. None had featured rally bananas, which hung from the Dodgers’ dugout and got showered with sunflower seeds, as if the baseball gods that unleashed this game would be appeased by that offering. None had witnessed Clayton Kershaw, the finest pitcher of his generation, still looking for his first World Series ring, pinch hitting, as he did in the 17th. (He flew out.) None had seen anything like Eovaldi, either. He was still in the game. Cora kept asking him how he’s feeling, as his pitches piled up, as his innings mounted. “I’m good,” he said. Twice Eovaldi has undergone Tommy John surgery, and this offseason, he’ll hit free agency for the first time, looking for a contract well in excess of $50 million. “I’m good,” he said. The Red Sox’s offense sputtered, not touching Dylan Floro or Kenta Maeda or Julio Urías or Alex Wood. Eovaldi locked down the Dodgers by himself. “I’m good,” he said.
15. Nathan Eovaldi came out one last time. Over six innings — the longest World Series relief outing since 1977 — Eovaldi had thrown 41 fastballs, 27 cutters, 19 curveballs, five sliders and four splitters. The fastball sat at 98 mph, even as Muncy stood at the plate. Three innings earlier, he had faced Eovaldi and hooked a ball down the right-field line and the fans screamed and Muncy prayed for it to stay fair and it didn’t. And then Eovaldi, on his 28th cutter, on his 97th pitch of the days, on the 561st of the game, at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday, 7 hours, 20 minutes after the game’s first pitch, left it over the plate, and Muncy deposited it over the left-field wall.
16. “My goodness,” Freese said. “I don’t even know what happened tonight.” He was here, of course, coming off the bench for the Dodgers. Freese hit the last World Series walkoff, in that same Game 6 that he tied when Cruz didn’t stretch far enough. “How do you pull a walkoff homer barely foul and then go oppo tank next AB?” Freese said. “That’s incredible. Especially off that.” He was awed by Eovaldi. Everyone was. As incredible as Muncy’s season has been — from released by the Oakland A’s in 2017 to integral piece of a pennant winner in 2018 — even the 16th walkoff home run in baseball history felt … secondary. “I know Eovaldi gets the loss,” Freese said, “but what an outing. Stupid.”
17. Yes. Stupid. This game was stupid and brilliant and frustrating and incredible. It was 7 hours, 20 minutes long. That broke the previous postseason record by 99 minutes. It featured 45 of the 50 players on both rosters, nine pitchers from each team. In 118 at-bats, the teams mustered just 18 hits and struck out 34 times. Mookie Betts went 0 for 7 and played right field, then center field, then right field, then center field, then right field, then center field, then right field, because Cora kept shifting him and moving center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. to left, depending on a hitter’s pull tendencies. That’s the kind of game this was: The future American League MVP can go hitless in seven at-bats and switch positions six times.
18. There is another number that matters along with the final score. It will be associated with this game forever parenthetically. Here’s how it will read, in some form or fashion: Dodgers 3, Red Sox 2 (Final/18). Eighteen. That’s how many innings Game 3 went. Two full games of pitching for the Dodgers. Just shy of that for the Red Sox. Heartbreak for Kinsler, who said: “I feel terrible for Nate. I feel like I let the team down right there.” Elation for Hernández, who said: “I didn’t want it to go 20.” A new life for the Dodgers, who can tie the series Saturday. A number of questions for the Red Sox, who may be forced to start Drew Pomeranz, who last threw in a game Sept. 30. It’s true: The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the World Series, 3-2. But is the score really all that matters? Not on this miserable, beautiful night that seemed like it would never end.
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