LOS ANGELES — They are, suggested assistant hitting coach Andy Barkett, like cockroaches, a force that torments opposing pitchers and will not go away. In Game 4 of the World Series, the Red Sox lineup lived up to that laud, swarming in the face of a 4-0, seventh-inning deficit to plate nine runs over the final three innings to stun the Dodgers in a 9-6 victory that moved the team within a game of the title.
The comeback was authored by a most unusual group of suspects who highlighted the depth of the Red Sox lineup rather than its most prominent figures. At a time when Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Andrew Benintendi were a combined 0-for-35 with 11 strikeouts in Los Angeles, it was role players who did the damage to give the Red Sox a 3-1 advantage in the race to four wins.
“The bench has been the key to our entire playoffs, if you look at it,” said Martinez. “I mean, everyone coming off the bench, coming up with big hits. You know, the guys that no one expects, they’re the one that are delivering, it’s unreal.”
After Rich Hill stifled the Red Sox and held them off the board into the seventh inning, pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland blasted a three-run homer deep to right field off reliever Ryan Madson to change the complexion of the game by bringing the Red Sox within a run.
The following inning, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went for broke, asking closer Kenley Jansen for a six-out save — a surprising ask given that Jansen had fatigued in his second inning of work in Game 3. First baseman Steve Pearce, a phenomenal trade pickup the Red Sox landed from the Blue Jays for potential utility infielder Santiago Espinal, blasted a Jansen offering into the seats in left-center to tie the game.
And finally, the Red Sox broke through in the ninth when Brock Holt bounced an opposite-field double down the left field line, pinch-hitter Rafael Devers delivered a run-scoring single for a 5-4 lead, and Pearce broke the game open with a three-run double to right-center. The Red Sox obliterated Dodger relievers, continuing a pattern that spanned much of the season, when the team’s offensive approach showed up with numerous late-innings explosions that rendered all leads against it unsafe, all save opportunities insecure.
After 24 quiet innings in Los Angeles, the cockroaches re-emerged, and as a result, the Red Sox are one victory from a title.
Takeaways from Game 4:
■ The Red Sox middle relievers have been amazing: Matt Barnes (one out, 1.04 playoff ERA) and Joe Kelly (2 scoreless innings, 0.87 postseason ERA) stifled the Dodgers at a time when the game had started slipping away from the Red Sox, continuing a pattern that has seen the Red Sox’ middle relievers (Barnes, Kelly, Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree, and the “rovers” heading from the rotation into the bullpen) deliver lockdown late-innings work all month. While closer Craig Kimbrel allowed a two-run homer to Kike Hernandez, re-establishing a sense of uncertainty about the end of games, the lapse came without consequence thanks to both the magnitude of the Sox’ five-run, ninth-inning explosion and the strong work by Barnes and Kimbrel.
■ They’re delivering in a pinch: Moreland’s three-run homer was the second pinch-hit longball of the World Series by the Red Sox, while Devers’s knock added to a highly productive group of pinch-hitting performances. Red Sox pinch-hitters are now 4-for-15 with two homers, nine RBI, and a .267/.421/.667 line in October.
■ Rodriguez gave the Red Sox a lot: Eduardo Rodriguez matched Dodgers starter Rich Hill, zero for zero, through five innings and two times through the batting order before a four-run, sixth inning that was the result, at least in part, of a defensive lapse.
In offering the Red Sox that kind of length — one night after the team’s pitching staff was stretched near the breaking point over 18 innings and Rodriguez himself had contributed out of the bullpen — the lefthander delivered a performance that was everything the Red Sox could have hoped for, and that gave them a chance to fight their way into the game while keeping their bullpen in good order to navigate the final outs to victory.
■ The Red Sox are looking for life at the top of their order: It is remarkable that the Red Sox managed nine runs in a game where Betts, Benintendi, Martinez, and Bogaerts went a combined 2-for-17 with four strikeouts. It is almost impossible for any set of four hitters to endure such complete struggles over two games, let alone four who rank among the better pure hitters in baseball. To this point, a combination of players who have gotten out of their typically sound offensive approaches and precise Dodgers execution of gameplans has stifled the Red Sox’ best hitters in Los Angeles.
■ The defense rests (when the Red Sox couldn’t afford for that to happen): One night after Ian Kinsler’s run-scoring error in the 13th inning prolonged Game 3 until the Dodgers won it on an 18th-inning walkoff, another poor throw opened the door to a four-run Dodgers rally. With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning of a then-scoreless game, Rodriguez elicited a hard grounder from Cody Bellinger to first baseman Steve Pearce.
Pearce fired home for a force, but catcher Christian Vazquez didn’t step away from the plate to create a clean throwing lane to first. Instead, he threw straight up the line, with the ball caroming off Bellinger’s back and down the right field line for the first run of the game. One batter later, Rodriguez — perhaps in a lapse of concentration after the misplay — left a 3-1 fastball over the plate to Yasiel Puig, who crushed it to left for a three-run homer and a 4-0 lead.
It’s hard to say precisely what role Vazquez’s error had in the inning. It’s possible Bellinger would have beaten the throw, and if so, it’s possible that Rodriguez still would have given up a homer. But the fundamental lapse in a pivotal moment proved uncharacteristic for a Red Sox team that spent most of the year taking advantage of their opponents’ misplays as opposed to making their own.