LOS ANGELES — Hang around the Red Sox long enough and you start to recognize some of the phrases and expressions that have become their mantras, the ideas set forth by manager Alex Cora and absorbed by his roster of believers, themes they’ve returned to over and over again on the way to this World Series date in Los Angeles.
One of the words to pop up with regularity is “flush,” as in this team’s season-long ability to flush a bad night down the (ahem) drain the moment it’s over, ridding it from memory before it even has a chance to affect the next night’s game.
That ability will be tested now more than ever.
After an 18-inning Boston Marathon game Friday night at Dodger Stadium, after 7 hours and 20 minutes of baseball that started in sunshine and ended in darkness, after 283 total pitches thrown by nine Red Sox pitchers, after once tying the game in the eighth and once taking the lead in the 13th only to watch Ian Kinsler’s two-out throwing error allow the Dodgers to tie it again, after a heroic 97-pitch relief effort by scheduled Game 4 starter Nathan Eovaldi, the Red Sox lost it in the 18th, 3-2, on Max Muncy’s walkoff home run.
How in the world do you flush something like that?
“Time will tell,” Jackie Bradley Jr. was saying on the field after the game, the memory of his tying solo shot in the eighth feeling like it had happened in another lifetime, the sting of lost opportunity still determining whether the loss would inflict long-lasting damage or be gone by the first pitch of Game 4. “It was a long, tough game, tires you out mentally, physically, emotionally. You get a little taste of everything.
“I think we’ll be fine. I talked with a lot of the guys and we want to have the same mentality we’ve had all year. Flush it, move onto the next game, and be ready to play.”
Still, the primary taste that had to be left when this game was over was bitterness, the sour remnants of getting down to the last out, having it in the glove of one of your Gold Glove finalist fielders, and throwing it away. And because of that, forcing yourself to play five more innings, taxing an already tired roster and ultimately losing it anyway.
That could clog even the most powerful drain.
There was third baseman Eduardo Nunez, tumbling all over the field, emerging by the end looking as if he’d played football rather than baseball. He tangled with the catcher after a swing at the plate, he tumbled over first base on the error that allowed the Sox to take the first extra-inning lead, he dived into the third base stands to catch a foul pop in the bottom of that inning, and tripped over the pitcher’s mound fielding another grounder later in the game. There was Xander Bogaerts, writhing in discomfort on more than a few late swings and running more and more awkwardly as the game wore on, looking generally uncomfortable on an 0-for-8 night. There was Eovaldi, taking the mound over and over again until that last, fateful pitch, his twice Tommy John-repaired arm still firing pitches in the high 90s.
And that barely scratches the surface of how much happened Friday night in Chavez Ravine.
No, the longest game in World Series history won’t be so easy to forget.
Yet that’s what we thought after the Red Sox left Fenway Park tied, 1-1, with the Yankees in the ALDS, barely hanging on in Game 1 and losing Game 2, walking out to the insulting tunes of “New York, New York,” vibrating from Aaron Judge’s playlist. The Sox won the next game, 16-1, clinching the series the next night in the Bronx. And that’s what we thought again after they lost Game 1 of the ALCS to Houston, when Cora got himself ejected and the defending world champion Astros looked like the calm, cool force of nature. The Sox won the next four games, including a three-game sweep at Minute Maid Park.
“We have a lot of talent on this team, in this lineup yes, but our ability to bounce back is amazing,” first baseman Steve Pearce told me last week before the World Series began.
“Our ability to flush is incredible. Have a bad game and we flush it immediately and come back a totally different team.
The Yankee series, we got slapped around pretty good and then we showed up a totally different team. Same thing happened with Houston, they slapped us around and then we showed up the next night a different team. That’s what this team is about.”
This will surely be the hardest test yet to prove it once again.
“This was a great baseball game,” Cora said. “Seven hours, whatever it is. People back home are probably waking up to the end. But it’s probably one of the best, if not the best, game I’ve ever been a part of. The effort from both sides. What Nate did tonight, that was amazing. That was amazing. We kept talking to him [and he said], ‘I’m good. I’m good. I’m good.’ ”
The manager didn’t have any postgame announcement to make about who would start Game 4, not even realizing as he said “we’ll map it out tomorrow” that he should actually have said “later today.” But what he did say, that “there are a few guys that are lining up in my office to start the game tomorrow,” spoke to the willingness and ability of this group of players to let it go. To flush it away.
“We’ll decide what we’ll do and we’ll be fine,” Cora said.
They’ll need to now more than ever.