LOS ANGELES — It seemed so harmless — a grounder up the middle by Yasiel Puig, slightly to the right of Ian Kinsler, the sort of play he’s made hundreds of times in a Gold Glove-caliber defensive career, almost surely the final out of the 13th that would secure a 2-1 Red Sox victory and a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven World Series. But for Kinsler, the routine quickly turned nightmarish.
His foot gave way on the grass behind the Dodger Stadium infield, a prelude to the uncorking of a wild throw to first that went into the stands, permitting Puig to reach, Max Muncy to score from second, and forcing the game even deeper into the night, a 2-2 deadlock that had been reduced to the exchanged blows of punchdrunk heavyweights.
On it went — to a record for the longest postseason game ever at 7 hours and 20 minutes, longer than the duration of the Yankees’ 1939 World Series sweep, as noted by STATS, accomplished in a combined 7 hours and 5 minutes.
On it went — tied for the longest playoff game ever by innings with 18.
On it went — long enough for a reliever to throw more pitches than almost any starter this year.
On it went — long enough for Kinsler to have hours to fret about the potential consequences of his misplay, and to see his fears come to fruition at 12:30 a.m. in Los Angeles.
Finally, on Nathan Eovaldi’s 97th pitch and in his seventh inning of work out of the bullpen, Max Muncy blasted a homer to left-center to give the Dodgers a 3-2 victory and with it, completely scramble a series that was on the cusp of being tilted dramatically in the Red Sox’ favor.
In a postseason in which the Red Sox had played almost flawlessly, they played a flawed game, one that inevitably will invoke some memories of the team’s last extra-inning game in a World Series — Game 6 of the 1986 title bout with the Mets, in which a Red Sox error one out from victory likewise cost the team a game and ultimately a title.
The consequences for the Red Sox in this scenario are not as dire, at least not yet, for a team that still has a two games-to-one advantage in the World Series. Nonetheless, not only have the Dodgers regained life in the series, but they do so at a time when the Red Sox’ pitching staff has been thrown into chaos by the aggressive, all-in usage of Alex Cora.
The use of Eovaldi — the scheduled Game 4 starter — in the 12th through 18th innings arguably represented the biggest stack of chips Cora has placed this postseason. And in this case, the gambit did not pay off.
The Dodgers — who have come back from a 2-0 World Series deficit three times in their franchise history (1955, 1965, 1981) — now will look to even the series in Game 4 on Saturday, one abbreviated, restless night removed for the Red Sox from a devastating defeat.
■ Strap in for Game 4: Eovaldi was supposed to start Game 4, but his six-inning effort wipes out that possibility and indeed raises questions about whether he can pitch again before Game 7. Every full-time Red Sox reliever was used, as were potential starting options David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez. The closers of both teams, Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen, worked in multiple innings, with their stuff looking diminished by the time they had concluded their outings. Add it all together and it’s a recipe for an offensive shootout in Game 4, assuming the hitters aren’t too exhausted to swing.
■ The top of the Sox lineup came up empty: Mookie Betts went 0 for 7 with three strikeouts, just the eighth three-strikeout game of his career. Xander Bogaerts went 0 for 8 with two strikeouts and hobbled around the field. Their failures to generate any offense — particularly once the rest of the lineup was thinned by pinch-hitters and double-switches — proved devastating. They became the first two players ever to go hitless in at least seven at-bats in a World Series game.
■ Eovaldi and Porcello deserve vacations: Rick Porcello delivered a Game 3 start very much reminiscent of his ALDS-clinching effort in New York, executing a full mix of pitches in the strike zone while flying through the Dodgers lineup. He threw one terrible pitch — a first-pitch, batting-practice changeup down the middle to Joc Pederson in the third inning that the outfielder launched to left for a solo homer — but otherwise delivered 4⅔ strong innings, allowing just one run on three hits and a walk while striking out five. Eovaldi allowed just two runs (one unearned) in six innings while throwing 97 pitches, tied for the most by a Sox pitcher this postseason.
The Red Sox have received consistent excellence from their hybrid starters-turned-relievers. Eovaldi has now contributed in six games (2 starts, 4 relief appearances) while posting a 1.61 ERA. Porcello has pitched in five games (3 starts, 2 relief appearances) — all Red Sox wins — while posting a 3.52 ERA. Their consistent work as both starters and relievers helps to explain their team’s methodical march through much of the postseason
■ The Red Sox had best hope they don’t face Walker Buehler again: Rookie Walker Buehler delivered an ace-caliber performance, working aggressively in the strike zone (72 of 108 pitches — 67 percent — were strikes) with a six-pitch mix headlined by a 95-100 mile-per-hour fastball. He complemented that offering with a nasty two-seamer that he could throw down in the zone, a wipeout cutter (at an average of 94.0 m.p.h., it was tied for the hardest cutter of the year by a starter), a curveball, a slider, and a cutter.
That mix made it impossible for the Red Sox to anticipate a single pitch type or location, resulting in a lot of vexed looks on the way back to the dugout. Buehler’s start was one of historic dominance in the Fall Classic — the fifth start in World Series history of at least seven shutout innings, no walks, and seven strikeouts, adding his name to a list that includes Madison Bumgarner (2014), Don Larsen (1956 perfect game), Roger Clemens (the Piazza bat-throwing game of 2000), and Brandon Backe (Astros starter in 2005).
In a postseason in which the Sox have faced Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Gerrit Cole, and Luis Severino, no one showed remotely the quality of stuff and execution that Buehler displayed in Game 3 of the World Series.
■ Another triumph of #Coralytics: With the Red Sox committed to starting J.D. Martinez in left field without benefit of the DH in the National League park, Cora had to choose whether to start Andrew Benintendi or Jackie Bradley Jr. He opted for Bradley, who collected two of the three Red Sox hits through eight innings — including, most notably, the game-tying homer in the eighth inning. The Bradley homer underscored the ferocity of the Red Sox lineup and the difficulty of recording 27 outs against it.
■ But sometimes, even #Coralytics go awry: Cora used his bench aggressively throughout the tense game, including the employment of Kinsler as a pinch-runner for Martinez in the ninth. Not only did the move backfire when Kinsler was thrown out at the plate while attempting to score from third on a flyball, but it left the Red Sox without Martinez for the duration of the game. By the end of the game, the Red Sox featured Eovaldi, Kinsler, and Brock Holt in the third through fifth spots of the lineup, and Christian Vazquez at first base for the first time in his big league career.