By going all in, gambling Red Sox may have doubled their losses

ByTim Keown ESPN logo
Saturday, October 27, 2018

LOS ANGELES -- Who cares about tomorrow? The Red Sox certainly don't. Tomorrow is for the hesitant and the lost. Tomorrow is for the meek and the undecided. There's a special place in purgatory for those who worry about tomorrow.

These guys go all in, every day. Today is the thing. Alex Cora manages like a guy on a solo trip to Vegas; he's either coming home on the overnight Greyhound or he's getting a monthlong comp in the best suite.

If all in means you run out of position players and end up with one pitcher sitting by himself in the bullpen for six long innings, oh well. It's the price you pay for glory. If all in means you're one more Eduardo Nunez pratfall away from having to fit Chris Sale for a first baseman's mitt, so be it. It's better than folding with a winning hand.

For the first two games of the World Series, Cora did everything right. He couldn't make a mistake if he tried. Pinch-hitters hit game-deciding homers and a succession of 100 mph relievers, one of them starter Nathan Eovaldi, got the last nine outs without much resistance. His moves served to make the Dodgers nearly irrelevant and caused the Boston fans to repeatedly chant, "Yankees suck," as if they were yearning for a more appropriate competitor. Everything worked so ridiculously well it prompted someone in Friday's pregame news conference to ask Cora, "Can a manager get on a hot streak?"

"Nah," he said. "It's the players."

But something shifted Friday night at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers and Red Sox played through the late-afternoon sun, and they played through sunset, and they played through the night, and they played into Saturday morning. And after more than seven hours and 18 innings of hold-my-beer, the Red Sox came into Saturday facing a question nobody could have foretold: Is it possible that all in -- that previously invincible dogma -- cost them two games Friday night?

A win would have meant a 3-0 Series lead and a broken Dodgers spirit. But given the state of Boston's pitching, the carryover is a legitimate concern. Eovaldi was supposed to start Game 4. He had a pregame news conference and everything. And he would have been out there, having his moment, had the Dodgers and Red Sox not chosen to present a seven-hour community theater vaudeville act. There was always one qualifier: With the way Cora manages every game as if it's their last, Eovaldi said, he might end up pitching in Game 3. All in? Eovaldi was. He ended up throwing 97 pitches over six remarkable innings.

Nunez appeared to be a candidate for the infirmary on several occasions. He hurt his ankle four or five times, either by running or catching or trying to stay out of the way of Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes. And when he told Cora he wanted to stay in the game, Cora told him, "You aren't coming out. We have no more players."

You can't prepare for that game. You can't make a decision in the eighth inning based on a hunch that the game won't be over for another 10 innings and six hours. You can't think If I do this right, we'll either win in nine or lose in 8. Besides, he's not in the business of managing to simply survive another day.

But when you go all in, you run the risk of it going very wrong.

"It's not crushing at all," Cora said. "I just talked to them, told them how proud I was. The effort was amazing. That was a great baseball game."

It might have been a great baseball game, but it wasn't great baseball. There were five runs and a million subplots. There was so much second-guessing it turned into thirds. David Price, the guy who started Game 2 on Wednesday night, came in to relieve in the ninth inning of a tie game. Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler threw a game for the ages -- prompting even Sandy Koufax to stand and cheer as he walked off after seven innings -- and by the end, you had to strain to remember he was even part of it. There was a season's worth of pop-ups in the infield, and nearly seven strikeouts for every run. Cody Bellinger followed one of the most confounding baserunning moves -- getting picked off first with one out in the ninth -- with the game's second-most-riveting moment -- preserving the tie with a double play that started with him catching Nunez's fly ball in medium right-center and throwing out Ian Kinsler at the plate for an inning-ending double play in the 10th. And that doesn't even get into Kinsler's decision to throw to first -- wildly, ridiculously -- after fielding a slow grounder off the bat of Yasiel Puig. He threw off one foot, falling forward, in roughly the position you would find yourself if you tripped in the dark and decided to toss away whatever was in your hand before you fell on it. Kinsler threw it away, Muncy scored to tie the game at 2 in the 13th and they played on.

Cora wouldn't commit to a Game 4 starter, but he suggested it would probably be a left-hander. By process of elimination, we could have inferred that it would be Drew Pomeranz, the only non-Sale pitcher who didn't take to the mound on Friday night. He was the lonely guy in the bullpen, and he would have taken the ball for the 19th had Max Muncy not ended it with an opposite-field homer off Eovaldi to cut Boston's series lead to one game. Pomeranz is also the guy who hasn't faced big league hitters since September, and the guy whose only headline to this point in the postseason was this one: "Pomeranz Admits He Was Pretty Shocked to Make World Series Roster." However, Cora eventually selected leftyEduardo Rodriguez, who was only tasked with one out and six pitches to Friday night's marathon.

Cora remains undaunted, and all in. He brushed aside concerns about the fitness of his staff heading into Game 4. "There are a few guys who are lining up in my office to start the game tomorrow," he said. It sounded good, but he was wrong about one thing: By the time he said it, tomorrow had become today, which had to be the only reason any of them cared.

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