This column was supposed to be about Walker Buehler, just Walker Buehler. The story of Friday’s World Series Game 3 was the Dodgers’ right-handed rookie turning the Boston bats into spaghetti for seven innings; he allowed just two baserunners, he left with a 1-0 lead, and he received a standing ovation from none other than Sandy Koufax during his final trip off the mound.
The highest praise. pic.twitter.com/DhCTMJS0jM— Don Van Natta Jr. (@DVNJr) October 27, 2018
But Kenley Jansen blew a save, permitting a Jackie Bradley Jr. homer in the eighth inning, and the game then transformed from a tidy L.A. win that would cut Boston’s series lead to 2-1, to a work of dystopian art that stretched 18 innings over 7 hours and 20 minutes before ultimately delivering that same end result. But, oh, how those extra hours mattered for the epic that unfolded: Game 3 was entropy in action—the longer it progressed, the wackier it grew.
Hi, meet our friend, JBClutch.#DoDamage pic.twitter.com/QQaJhzOUpI— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) October 27, 2018
This game featured a pinch runner, Ian Kinsler, who traversed the bases like the diamond had turned into Rainbow Road, with Cody Bellinger’s ferocious arm in center field acting as the blue shell that knocked him off the edge. It featured, for goodness’ sake, a reopening of various concession stands and a “14th-inning stretch” during which the fans belted a second rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” It featured 46 players and 561 pitches and, somehow, just five total runs.
It featured Clayton Kershaw pinch-hitting in the 17th inning; a potential winning run for Boston that involved a catcher clotheslining the batter on a wild pitch, a swinging-bunt single, and an errant throw from a relief pitcher to a relief second baseman at the first-base bag; an ensuing tying run from the Dodgers that required its own series of misfortunes, from an advanced base on a fielder falling into the stands to Kinsler botching the potential game-winning throw to first; and, ultimately, a Max Muncy home run to win by a score of 3-2, three innings and who knows how many minutes after he had missed a walk-off homer by just a foot to the side of the right-field foul pole.
Guess there is a Max for how many innings will be played tonight. pic.twitter.com/prBS1luHfK— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 27, 2018
And when all that lunacy had transpired and the crowd had filtered out of the stands with a mix of euphoric cries and exhausted steps, they left with the memories of the longest game in playoff history, which was, fittingly, one of the strangest baseball games in history too.
The night started with Buehler, who electrified the Dodger Stadium throng for seven strong. He started his night with two strikeouts, catching Mookie Betts looking on a full count and slipping a cutter by Xander Bogaerts. The crowd roared—and never stopped with the 24-year-old right-hander in the game. Outside a brief flirtation with trouble in the third inning, when Bradley led off with an infield single and, after a pickoff, Christian Vázquez dumped a single into left, Buehler didn’t allow a single baserunner. Boston’s vaunted top of the order went a combined 0-for-12 with six strikeouts, the final on a feeble swing from J.D. Martinez on a 98 mile-per-hour heater that sent the crowd into hysterics and a rousing seventh-inning stretch.
But just a few minutes later, those fans were silenced by a Bradley homer, the Boston center fielder’s umpteenth clutch two-out hit of the playoffs. Nearly five more hours passed before the game’s final out, and in that time, order fell to chaos and these two excellent teams combined for several never-before-seen plays that involved a giant dose of buffoonery.
Take, for instance, Kinsler’s 10th-inning adventure. It started innocently enough, as he replaced Martinez following the latter’s one-out walk. But Pedro Báez nearly picked Kinsler off on his first move—the play was close enough that the Dodgers challenged the on-field safe call, albeit unsuccessfully—and his night grew stranger on Báez’s first pitch to the next hitter. Kinsler broke for second as Brock Holt lined a single to left-center, but Kinsler overslid at third base and only just scrambled back to the bag before Justin Turner dropped a tag.
He had nearly TOOTBLANed twice, but that wasn’t enough for the ambitious runner: When Eduardo Núñez lifted a would-be sac fly to center, Kinsler’s sprint home was so slow it couldn’t beat an off-line throw from Bellinger, and catcher Austin Barnes tagged the onrushing Kinsler well short of the plate. The stadium erupted; the endless night continued apace.
Run on @Cody_Bellinger?— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 27, 2018
YOU THOUGHT. #WorldSeries pic.twitter.com/SXRl8NalOJ
The reaction was far different in the 13th inning, when Núñez again found himself involved in a helping of weirdness. Holt was on first base after a leadoff walk, and when a ball in the dirt eluded Barnes’s glove, Holt turned toward second. The runaway pitch trickled toward Núñez in the batter’s box, and Barnes flipped him with a linebacker’s tackle. The medical staff took the field—and were fortunate to determine that Núñez could remain in the game, because Alex Cora’s bench was devoid of position players.
So Núñez took his next swing and tickled a ball just a few feet. Pitcher Scott Alexander and Muncy danced around it, leaving nobody to cover first—and Alexander’s throw in that direction drifted wide of rotating second baseman Kike Hernández, allowing Holt to score and Núñez and Hernández to crash. The medical team was summoned once again; Núñez once again tested an ailing lower body with a light jog.
The Lead. #DoDamage pic.twitter.com/MuCz90iEw3— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) October 27, 2018
Of course, Núñez made a leaping catch before falling into the stands in the bottom half of the inning. The game couldn’t have progressed any other way. Because that catch advanced Muncy to second base, and when Kinsler threw the next hitter’s slow roller away, Muncy made the turn home and scored on an infield error, exactly as Holt had done in the top half of the inning.
ARE. YOU. SERIOUS.— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) October 27, 2018
Puig puts the ball in play, Kinsler misses the throw to 1st and Max Muncy scores to tie the game in the bottom of the 13th!!! pic.twitter.com/nS49fvMo0I
Kinsler’s night, in sum: 0-for-3 while batting in the spot of Martinez, who earlier on Friday won the Hank Aaron Award as the top hitter in the American League in 2018, along with one time thrown out on the bases, two times nearly thrown out on the bases, and one error on a play that would have given the Red Sox a 3-0 series lead. Any Bill Buckner comparison is unfair—Yasiel Puig’s grounder did induce a trickier play than a routine grounder, for one, and more importantly, Boston already has three World Series titles in the past 15 years, so there’s no drought or curse for context in 2018. But it will also be hard for Boston fans not to remember Game 3 as the “Kinsler game” for years to come if the team doesn’t ultimately turn its extant series advantage into another trophy.
After Kinsler’s error, the game persisted, and the offenses grew ever weaker as the innings piled up. Kenta Maeda fielded a bunt and nabbed the lead runner at third, helping to quell a Boston threat; Muncy missed a 15th-inning blast by inches; Betts and Bogaerts grounded out against a shaky Alex Wood to ruin Boston’s chance to score in the 18th. Núñez, meanwhile, reminded everyone that he was still in the game, face-planting on the infield after tripping on the mound while catching a popup, because why not, at that point.
Eduardo Nuñez is a legend. pic.twitter.com/pO61qKdDWJ— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) October 27, 2018
After Jansen allowed his homer in the eighth, eight Dodger relievers combined for 10 one-run innings, while Nathan Eovaldi did most of the work for Boston’s bullpen all by himself. The ostensible Game 4 starter, who had already relieved in games 1 and 2 of the series, threw five wonderful innings on Friday and a sixth wonderful frame on Saturday morning, after the clock passed midnight in L.A., but it was in his seventh try that the marathon’s finish-line tape arrived in an instant. Muncy lofted a 3-2 cutter to left-center field, and when it found the first row of the stands, the stadium burst into the kind of noise it had previously mustered for, well, the 14th-inning stretch that had come several plot twists before.
Dave Roberts looked like he was in a mausoleum in his postgame press conference; Muncy said all he wanted was to go home to sleep. And those were the victors! Blown saves have traditionally inspired the most memorable World Series games, and Friday-into-Saturday was the latest, and longest, proof that pattern holds true.
Muncy received multiple Gatorade baths after his triumphant trot around the bases. He deserved them both. He’d won the equivalent of two games, after all.