So what happens after 18 innings — and nearly 7 1⁄2 hours of baseball — produces a World Series loss that was draining both physically and mentally for the Red Sox?
Alex Cora gathered his exhausted players for a clubhouse meeting in an effort to accentuate the positive and maybe head off any lingering seeds of momentary despair. The Red Sox already have endured plenty during their almost eight months together, but nothing like Game 3, which began at 5:10 p.m. local time Friday and ended at 12:30 a.m. Saturday (3:30 a.m. on the East Coast).
The physical toll was obvious. Nathan Eovaldi’s 97-pitch, six-innings-plus relief outing, for a veteran of two Tommy John surgeries. Eduardo Nuñez’s myriad leg injuries, caused by numerous tumbles on the turf and into the stands.
But there were mental scars, too. Ian Kinsler blamed himself for throwing away what would have been a victory-sealing out in the 13th inning, as well as getting thrown out at the plate earlier. The top four spots in Boston’s vaunted lineup, anchored by MVP candidates Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, went 0-for-28 in the loss. This went beyond disappointment, and Cora immediately recognized the need to pump up his deflated group.
“We actually talked about it for the first time after the game,” Cora said. “We didn’t get together to celebrate. Usually that’s what you do. I don’t have team meetings and all that stuff. I told them how proud I was. That was epic. To play baseball for seven hours and whatever minutes and to grind from pitch one all the way to the last pitch, that was awesome. And made a point of letting Nate know that that was outstanding.”
The Red Sox rallied most around Eovaldi, who was praised with every superlative by his teammates, as well as many of the Dodgers. For the Boston players, Eovaldi was their compass, reminding them of the way back to the winning track. Otherwise, the Sox were left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath, hoping for a better day once they got out of bed.
“We did everything we could to win that game,” Nuñez said. “We lose together and we win together. We do the best we can.”
Nuñez was in the starting lineup for Saturday’s Game 4 but it was the bench for Kinsler, who would have to wait for a shot at redemption. Kinsler took the loss hard, knowing that it cost the Red Sox a 3-0 lead in games, which was as close to a guaranteed ring as you can get midway through a short series.
“You try to put it behind you,” said Kinsler, who apologized to Eovaldi. “Everyone has got each other’s back in that situation, but there’s nothing they can say in that moment to help.”
Down the hallway, in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, there was a much different vibe before Game 4. Max Muncy’s walk-off home run had saved their title hopes, and they were infused with the levity that comes with getting a second life. Justin Turner arrived riding a motorized scooter. Clayton Kershaw, now Sunday’s Game 5 starter, reflected on the banana shrine — a bunch of them strung together in the dugout by Brian Dozier — that suddenly appeared late in Game 3.
“It was a long game,” Kershaw said. “You get a little bored up there and start doing weird stuff.”
Dave Roberts said he slept for only a few hours and was “three cups of coffee deep” by the time he showed up for Saturday’s pregame media briefing. The first question posed to him, however, had to do with the Dodgers’ bizarre handling of their Game 4 starter. Despite already indicating that it would be Rich Hill, the team’s official Twitter feed announced it as TBD shortly after the 18-inning victory, then swapped back to Hill about three hours before Saturday’s first pitch.
Roberts explained the move by saying the Dodgers briefly considered an “opener” for Game 4 despite never doing it previously. After what the Red Sox had just been through, however, they probably didn’t pay attention to the brief gamesmanship. Too busy napping.
Boston skipped batting practice and tried to take the field Saturday with a fresh outlook.
“I think we picked ourselves up last night after that game, get collected, get some rest and come back and stay fighting,” said Chris Sale, who would have had to play the outfield if Nuñez had left with an injury. “That’s what got us here. We don’t shy away from adversity. We don’t back down from a challenge.”
The middle games of this World Series certainly are presenting one.