Tomase: Now we find out what happens when Red Sox push all the buttons and lose

John Tomase
October 27, 2018 - 5:44 am
Max Muncy

Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports

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Related: Nathan Eovaldi immense in World Series Game 3 defeat for Red Sox vs. Dodgers

A 3-0 World Series lead dangling like the treasure in an Indiana Jones movie, Alex Cora cracked his whip around something solid and swung daringly into darkness. Land on the other side, like the cinematic hero, and a championship would effectively be his.

But here’s the danger of hurling headlong into danger: there’s the potential for an awfully long fall.

The Red Sox didn’t just lose an insane Game 3 of the World Series in 18 innings over seven hours and 20 minutes to give the Dodgers life on Friday. They did so in a fashion that’s about to teach them what happens when the manager that can do no wrong watches his aggressiveness end in defeat.

They’ll certainly feel the repercussions in Saturday’s Game 4, if not beyond. With that 3-0 lead in sight, Cora went for broke. He emptied his bench, leaving a mishmash of fielders playing out of position, which proved deadly on what could’ve been the last out of the game.

But more importantly, he emptied his bullpen and burned Game 4 starter Nathan Eovaldi, leaving some unsavory options for Saturday night – Chris Sale on short rest, Drew Pomeranz for his first start in two and a half months, or the mercurial Eduardo Rodriguez. "Somebody will start," Cora said. "Most likely a lefty."

After a wild, draining, exhausting Game 3 that ended in a 3-2 Dodgers victory, the 2018 World Series just got interesting in ways that suddenly make the coronation of the Red Sox less than a sure thing.

“That was a long, tough game,” said outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. “You’re tired out mentally, physically, emotionally. You get a little taste of everything.”

It has been a long time since we can say the Red Sox let a must-win game slip away, but this one qualifies. Stymied for seven innings by brilliant Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler, the Red Sox tied the game at 1-1 on Bradley’s solo homer in the eighth.

After having the go-ahead run cut down at the plate by Cody Bellinger, they took the lead in the 13th on an error and seemingly had the game won when Yasiel Puig grounded sharply to second baseman Ian Kinsler with two outs. But the veteran stumbled on the outfield grass and rushed a throw that first baseman Christian Vazquez (not a misprint) failed to corral as the tying run scored.

And then began the slog. L.A. fans cheered when the scoreboard flashed midnight, which of course meant 3 a.m. for those brave souls still watching in New England. The Dodgers used Clayton Kershaw as a pinch hitter in the 17th inning and he lined out. The Red Sox used Eovaldi in relief and watched him throw six-plus innings and 97 pitches, a herculean effort for a free-agent-to-be with a pair of Tommy John surgeries under his belt that nonetheless ended in defeat when Max Muncy walked him off at 3:30 a.m. EST.

Cora made so many decision over the equivalent of two full games that some will undoubtedly be second-guessed. Outfielder Andrew Benintendi received only one at-bat in 18 innings, his pinch-hitting appearance not quite aligning with J.D. Martinez’s departure from the game for a defensive replacement. Starter Rick Porcello was lifted with two outs in the fourth, and his replacement, Eduardo Rodriguez, faced only one batter. Vazquez ended up playing first base for seven innings, and Steve Pearce never saw the field.

“The game will dictate when we move our pieces and our players and it was a 3-2 game,” Cora said.

The Red Sox have exhibited unparalleled resilience all season, and they’re going to need it. They blew a chance to claim an insurmountable lead, and now their task is a serious one: return to Boston without trailing 3-2.

It won't be easy. Each team used nine pitchers, but the Dodgers are carrying 12 and the Red Sox only 11, with a potentially unreliable starter taking the hill for Game 4. Closer Craig Kimbrel threw 28 pitches. Setup man Heath Hembree went for 25 and Matt Barnes 23. David Price is presumably out for Saturday. Eovaldi shouldn’t pitch again until the series returns to Boston after appearances in each of the first three games.

“We’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” Eovaldi said. “Or today. Or two day’s time.”

The Red Sox ended the game hobbled. Eduardo Nunez spent portions of extra innings crawling around in agony, seemingly tripping over every uneven surface in the ballpark. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, crunched on a takeout slide by Justin Turner, limped out of the box on his last couple of swings, becoming the first player in World Series history to go 0-for-8.

When the Red Sox failed to close things out in the 13th, their fate felt sealed. With the top four spots in the order going 0-for-28, the Red Sox had nowhere to turn for offense, not with Eovaldi batting third, and easy outs Kinsler, Nunez, Vazquez, and Sandy Leon dotting a Fort Myers split-squad lineup.

By about the 15th inning, it felt like only three hitters had a chance of winning the game: Betts, Bradley, and Brock Holt. And in the case of Betts, we were going solely on reputation, because he had an awful night, going 0-for-7 and mostly just flying out routinely.

If there’s hope for the Red Sox, it’s that the Dodgers are clearly an all-or-nothing lineup. They hit home runs or they don’t score. The Red Sox can manufacture runs, and the Dodgers are going to be tired on Saturday, too.

That said, the Red Sox feel like the team that will be at a disadvantage. The Dodgers are home, they’ve got adrenaline and the crowd on their side, and they suddenly feel alive.

The Red Sox? They lunged for the ultimate prize, and now they’ve got to catch themselves before the tumble into real trouble.

“I talked with a lot of guys,” Bradley said. “We’re going to have the same mentality we’ve had all year. Flush it, move on to the next game, and be ready to play.”