LOS ANGELES — There is a famous story from Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, the 12-inning thriller at Fenway Park that ended with catcher Carlton Fisk’s indelible home run for the Boston Red Sox. Late in the game, when Pete Rose came to bat for the Cincinnati Reds, he turned to Fisk and said, “Man, isn’t this the most exciting game you ever played in?”
Players rarely take time to reflect on history as it happens. Sometimes, though, at those most special moments, they cannot help but recognize it.
When these Red Sox lost the longest game in World Series history to the Los Angeles Dodgers early Saturday morning, on an 18th-inning homer by Max Muncy, they were not discouraged. They were excited.
“We talked about how crazy of a game it was, and how fun — that was nuts,” the slugger J.D. Martinez said a day later. “I mean, that was an 18-inning World Series game. You never see that; it was the longest game ever! That was pretty sick. Yeah, we lost, but if you’re a baseball fan and you love the game, that’s something you want.”
Just as the 1975 Reds recovered from Fisk’s home run to win Game 7, the 2018 Red Sox shook off Muncy’s blast and won the next night. Their 9-6 comeback win in Game 4 brought Boston to the verge of its fourth championship in 15 seasons, a title that would validate a franchise-best 108 victories in the regular season.
“You don’t win 108 games in that division, that league, in this day and age unless you’re a pretty good club,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said.
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Martinez was mostly quiet through the first four games of the World Series. So was Mookie Betts, Boston’s other top candidate for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Both were hitting below .215, just as the Dodgers had hoped.
“When you’re game-planning against a particular team, there’s the superstars that you don’t want to let beat you,” Roberts said. “We put Mookie on, we put J.D. on.”
The Dodgers used intentional walks to avoid Betts and Martinez in the ninth inning of Game 4. But they could not stop the Red Sox from scoring five runs in the inning, turning a tie game into another emphatic display of a deep and merciless lineup.
The Red Sox took command of this World Series despite getting just four ordinary innings from their ace starter, Chris Sale, who made more of an impact with a profane dugout rant in Game 4 than he did while pitching in the opener. Boston was batting .218 as a team through four games, and its hitters actually had more strikeouts than the Dodgers’ hitters.
Yet Manager Alex Cora has helped the Red Sox with a World Series full of inspired moves. Two pinch-hitters — Eduardo Nunez in Game 1 and Mitch Moreland in Game 4 — have delivered three-run homers. Another, Rafael Devers, singled home the go-ahead run in Game 4 after a role player, Steve Pearce, had tied it with a homer.
Pearce was one of three pivotal midseason trade acquisitions by Dave Dombrowski, the president of baseball operations. He also added starter Nathan Eovaldi, who has dazzled in relief in this World Series, and second baseman Ian Kinsler.
“One of my favorite things I’ve seen since I’ve been here is the team chemistry on and off the field,” Pearce said. “And when I came in, they were having fun and laughing, everyone was together and talking baseball. And then you notice on the field when you’re playing against them for so long, they’re always having fun. It’s very contagious, and it’s just a great atmosphere.”
Cora has helped cultivate that environment in his first season as manager. He had a chance on Sunday to become the third Red Sox manager in the last four to win a World Series in his Boston debut. Terry Francona did it in 2004 (adding another title in 2007), and John Farrell did it in 2013, after the team’s awkward one-year interlude with Bobby Valentine.
While Roberts has been burned by his reliance on the veteran reliever Ryan Madson, who allowed all seven of his inherited runners to score in Games 1, 2 and 4, Cora has mostly made shrewd bullpen moves. When he left in starter Eduardo Rodriguez to serve up a three-run homer to Yasiel Puig on Saturday, Cora acknowledged his mistake.
“I pushed him too hard,” Cora said, adding later, “I was actually kicking myself for a few innings before the comeback.”
Cora played for the Red Sox championship team in 2007, when he was a reserve infielder. That was the only Boston team in a stretch of 17 seasons from 1996 to 2012 that won the A.L. East. Those Red Sox dominated with a pitching staff that had the best earned run average in the A.L. and an offense that led the majors in walks. The lineup revolved around David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez but had firepower throughout.
“It’s the same way here — we’ve got Mookie and J.D., but the at-bats around them, they’re great,” Cora said. “It’s a relentless group. We’re not as patient as that group, but we grind at-bats and we foul pitches. Obviously we drive the ball out of the ballpark, but we can do other stuff, too.”
Both teams had speed, Cora said, and a strong rotation, stingy bullpen and power hitters off the bench.
“And both managers, they’re bald,” he added.
Cora had reason to smile. He won a World Series ring at Dodger Stadium last fall as the bench coach for the Houston Astros. Now he had another chance, with a resilient roster that seems to cherish its place in history.