LOS ANGELES — How could anyone have doubted them?
The Red Sox never had a slump this season. Buoyed by rookie manager Alex Cora, they won a franchise-record 108 games and endeared themselves to fans with demonstrations of selflessness, confidence, and sheer joy. When the Sox struggled briefly in the AL Division Series against the Yankees, they shut everybody up with a 16-1 win in Yankee Stadium and erased the Pinstripes the next night.
Then they wiped out the world champion Houston Astros in five tidy games.
The Red Sox cut the hearts out of the Los Angeles Dodgers, 9-6, Saturday and are one win away from the franchise’s fourth World Series championship of this century.
Boston’s Game 4 win was stunning and satisfying, an emphatic statement after a Game 3 loss that would have demoralized a lesser team.
Hearing talk of a collapse, and Bill Buckner, and panic in the wake of a soul-crushing, 18-inning Game 3 loss, the Red Sox trailed, 4-0, to start the seventh inning of Game 4, and faced the prospect of a 2-2 series and a lifetime of second-guesses.
Instead, they rallied for nine runs over the final three innings as a legion of Red Sox Nation fans overwhelmed the baby blue ballpark. The Red Sox and their Nation sent Dodger fans into the night certain that the 2018 World Series has been decided.
“One thing about our team, we keep playing,’’ said Cora. “It’s been like that the whole time . . . They love to play baseball. They’ve been doing it since spring training and now we’re in this position.’’
Clayton Kershaw and David Price are scheduled to duel in Game 5 Sunday (Cora made a late night switch from Chris Sale to Price) but this feels like elaboration of the obvious in the aftermath of what the Red Sox did to Dave Roberts and the Dodgers in Game 4.
Milton’s Rich Hill pitched brilliantly for the Dodgers, allowing only one hit over 6⅓ innings, but Roberts made the mistake of trusting his bullpen against the relentless Red Sox. Hill watched the Red Sox score nine runs in three innings after turning over a 4-0 lead to the pen in the seventh. On Twitter, President Trump ripped Roberts for taking Hill out of the game.
At this juncture, Cora — no longer the Midas manager after letting a tired Eduardo Rodriguez surrender a three-run homer to Yasiel Puig in the sixth — was taken off the hook by Boston’s next-man-up lineup.
It all started with a three-run pinch-hit homer by Mitch Moreland in the seventh. Shades of Bernie Carbo, circa 1975. Shades of Eduardo Nunez last week.
Moreland’s blast off Ryan Madson (seven of seven inherited runners have scored against Madson) made it 4-3 after seven. Then Steve Pearce tied it with a solo shot off Dodger closer Kenley Jansen in the eighth.
Fightin’ Joe Kelly preserved the tie, striking out Yasmani Grandal with runners on first and third in the eighth.
Anyone up for another 18 innings? Another 3:30 a.m. closing time?
The Sox put it away with a five-run, jail-break ninth.
Brock Holt started the winning rally, bouncing a one-out double to left. When Cora sent babyface Rafael Devers up to pinch hit, Roberts did nothing. He allowed his righty Dylan Floro to face Devers and naturally, Devers scored Holt with a clean single to center. After a couple more Sox reached, Pearce broke it open with a three-run double.
“We’ve got to pick each other up,’’ said Roberts, who is having a terrible series. “There’s a lot of emotion, intensity, effort and focus. [Hill] did everything you could do. We’ve got to do a better job of picking him up.’’
When the critical Presidental tweet was read to Roberts after the game, the Dodger manager said, “The President said that? I don’t know how many Dodger games he’s watched. I don’t think he was privy to the conversation. That’s one man’s opinion.’’
Boston’s heart-attack closer Craig Kimbrel managed to make it interesting, surrendering two runs in the ninth, but there was no coming back from this one for the Dodgers.
The tone for this pivotal Sox win was set by Cora early in the afternoon. While Sale, Price, and Rick Porcello were banging on his office door, offering to pitch, Cora calmly put the hideous Game 3 loss in perspective.
“It’s another day,’’ said the manager. “It’s a crushing loss and whatever, we’re still up 2-1 . . .”
He was right.
The hideous loss did not matter. Mookie Betts’s slump did not matter. J. D. Martinez’s ankle injury did not matter. Sale’s woes, Kimbrel’s skittishness, Nunez’s flopping did not matter.
Nothing matters with these guys.
“They know where they’re at,’’ said Cora. “We’ve got three shots. We’ll be ready to play tomorrow. We’re very excited to come here and try to finish.’’
“Our guys aren’t done,’’ countered Roberts. “We’ve got our best going tomorrow and we’re expecting to win a baseball game.’’
It feels like it is over. It feels like the Red Sox are going to win it Sunday night in Los Angeles. With David Price (World Series MVP?) on the mound.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org