LOS ANGELES – In the very personal horror shows amid the larger, public one, the one that now seems likely to fill the room for however long winter lasts, there is comfort in the single mistake. The Los Angeles Dodgers grabbed to what they could. One lousy pitch. One. Spread around, of course. But, still, to a man, one. Across many men. So many men.
In this case, more accurately these cases, in the matter of any of the final innings that again have the World Series as the Boston Red Sox’s to lose, the notion of single and momentary lapses is what allows the next day to come. To come clean. To come without debilitating regret. To come without first sawing off a chunk of one’s soul with a cheese spreader.
This would be viewed differently across the field, of course, as a great victory against the longest of odds. A show of heart and spirit. An answer to Chris Sale’s hysterics. And, sure, it could be all of that, too.
But, and here’s the thing, when a team such as the Dodgers holds a four-run lead with seven outs to get, when in 54 prior instances a four-run lead was protected every single time, when the outcome is instead a rout in the other direction and a 3-1 deficit, when not a single one of six pitchers had the vaguest bearing of sustained competence, Game 4 will be – and should be – regarded as the Dodgers’ failure.
Granted, the final measurement cannot be taken until the ball Mitch Moreland struck off Ryan Madson in the seventh inning lands, but at this point it’s fair to present an approximation. A bullpen that on Friday night allowed but one run in 11 innings, that was spared lasting exhaustion by judicious management, not 24 hours later was unable to defend itself not against Mookie Betts or Andrew Benintendi or J.D. Martinez, but against Moreland, Steve Pearce, Brock Holt and Rafael Devers. In what became a 9-6 victory, the Red Sox scored seven runs after there were two out, signature uprisings for a team that has made its October living by extending innings.
Rich Hill was sublime into the seventh inning. He handed over a 4-0 lead. To his manager, Dave Roberts. To a bullpen six deep. To a series that as far as anyone could tell was about to get interesting again. To a ballpark that in the late October night plays big. To a crowd still high from the night before, which bled into that very morning, which helped to rough up the Red Sox’s pitching plans. Hill had handled the first 91 pitches, the first 19 outs, masterfully. What the Dodgers would require was eight more outs, with three runs to give.
“I thought the way we were able to use our guys efficiently [in Game 3], I thought we were definitely more equipped,” Hill said. “And I still do, moving forward.”
So, here’s what Dave Roberts had:
A 38-year-old pitcher who’d done his part.
A gap where Pedro Báez had stood in each of the first three games, lastly over two innings and 26 pitches the night before. He was unavailable.
A shelved Julio Urías, who’d pitched an inning in Games 1, 2 and 3.
A closer with a propensity for giving up home runs, and who’d thrown two innings the day before. Kenley Jansen, who’d allowed 13 regular-season home runs, more than twice the number of any previous season, gave up the tying home run in the eighth inning of Game 3. Ten innings later, Jansen had located Max Muncy in the postgame celebration, hugged him and whispered, “Thank you.”
Madson, whose glittery October had given way to a sudden habit of allowing existing baserunners to score.
Some would call that a corner.
Others, a nine-run rally waiting to happen.
“So, in that spot right there, considering what you have left in the pen, you have to make a decision,” Roberts said. “And I felt that Ryan still had a very good chance to get him out.”
Moreland, of course, hit a changeup so hard a parking attendant ducked. That was three runs. The next inning, against Jansen, Pearce homered on a wayward cutter. The score was 4-4. Ten Red Sox batted in the ninth inning against what was left of a bullpen by then on its heels, by then counting its own singular mistakes on two hands, by then unable to stop what had quickly become inevitable.
“I was kinda surprised how far it went,” Madson said of the first-pitch changeup to Moreland. “It popped out of my hand and didn’t go where it was supposed to go.”
The ball landed square in the Dodgers’ psyches. A four-run lead was one. Yasiel Puig, over whom the ball passed, placed his hands on his head and stared not at the baseball, but at the mound. Game 4 was a stinkin’ game again. The Dodgers were vulnerable again.
“Definitely away,” Jansen said of the intended location of the cutter Pearce walloped. “That one didn’t cut. Just backed up, straight. I hate the word ‘if.’ But if it had been in another spot, who knows what could’ve happened.”
These things do happen, of course. The manager wears the result like a bad haircut. The men who waffled the changeup or overthrew the cutter or walked the perfect matchup on four pitches or plain pitched poorly report for work the next day, consoled that one damned pitch happens to everyone. It’s part of the game. It’s part of being human. It’s part of why they do this.
“Just one pitch,” Jansen said. “One bad pitch. One bad pitch yesterday. One bad pitch today. Can’t worry about it no more. Already happened. At this point, it’s already over with. What I can do is control tomorrow.”
There is tomorrow. First Clayton Kershaw, then whatever comes behind him. Then we’ll see about how many more tomorrows after that.
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