Dodger fan Koji (left) and his pals rejoice as Max Muncy’s game-winning home run clears the wall in the 18th inning in the wee hours of Saturday morning. L.A. won the game and trail the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, 2 games to 1. (Photo by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)
By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS Rafu Sports Editor
Never mind the fact that this was the longest game in World Series history – 18 innings, seven hours and 20 minutes.
Pay no attention to how the Dodgers were in desperate need of a win, lest they fall into a 3-games-to-none hole against the Boston Red Sox.
Don’t be distracted at all by how both teams used all their bench players, the Dodgers pitching ace was brought in to pinch hit, and that one Boston pitcher who had been expected to start Saturday night’s Game 4 ended up throwing essentially a full game in relief.
No, disregard all that, and take pride in the fact that you witnessed something truly special.
Friday night’s (and Saturday morning’s) Game 3 of the 2018 World Series was a true classic, almost to the point where it doesn’t matter who is finally crowned champion.
This one had everything that makes baseball great. It had the tension of the two best teams playing in top form. It had the edge-of-your seat rises and falls with each inning. It had a spectacular performance by a rookie – the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler – who pitched seven scoreless innings and earned a standing ovation from no less towering a figure than Sandy Koufax.
This one had errant throws that led to runs, and a runner picked off first who one-half inning later threw out the potential go-ahead run from center field. There were tumbles, questionable calls by the umpires and a player flying into the crowd to make a spectacular catch.
And at the end, it had what Vin Scully might very well have labeled “The Improbable.”
A young fan named Koji was doing his level best to stay awake after the 16th inning ended with a 2-2 tie still holding fast. Maybe 12 or 13 years old, Koji was trying to stay focused on the game, but after a full day of school and eight-plus hours of emotionally draining baseball, he was fading.
He was jolted back to full strength, however, by the crack of Max Muncy’s bat in the bottom of the 18th. At just about half past midnight local time – 3:30 a.m. in Beantown – a 3-2 pitch was sent sailing into the cool and dampening Los Angeles night, with the hopes of most of the sell-out crowd flying along every inch of its flight.
When it landed, bedlam reigned over the ballpark, the Dodgers celebrated wildly with a 3-2 victory, and the complexion of the Fall Classic reverted from a runaway to a competitive series.
“This was one of the best, if not the best game I’ve ever been involved with,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. Despite his team’s loss, even he seemed to be in awe of what had just transpired.
Dodger manager Dave Roberts left room for cautious optimism after the Game 3 win. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts agreed that a win such as this one can shift the momentum of the series.
“All I know is we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves right now,” Roberts said. “Considering where we’re at, down 2-1 with the home crowd behind us, I think there’s a little bit of momentum on our side.”
Kenta Maeda entered the game in the 15th inning, was shaky at first, allowing a hit followed by a walk. He had a superb play on a would-be sacrifice bunt with no outs, throwing out the lead runner. He then struck out the next five batters he faced.
“I was pressing a little bit there with two on base and no outs, but I was able to execute my pitches, and that made the difference,” Maeda said. “Getting that out was a turning point. I found another gear and found myself able to concentrate completely on the next hitter.”
Muncy narrowly missed ending the game in the bottom of the 15, hooking a Nathan Eovaldi breaking ball just outside the right field foul pole. When Eovaldi threw his 97th pitch in the Dodger half of the 18th, Muncy didn’t miss.
For a fellow who was unemployed when the Oakland A’s released him before the end of Spring Training this year, it’s tough to imagine what kind of crazy dream includes Friday’s walk-off homer.
“It happens in this dream right now, this exact one,” Muncy said afterward. “There’s not many words I can use to describe that. The feeling was just pure joy and incredible excitement. That’s about all I can think of, because it’s hard to describe how good a feeling it is.”
And when those are the feelings that linger, those emotions so difficult to fully iterate, that’s baseball at its best.