LOS ANGELES — Chris Sale, the Boston Red Sox star pitcher, was furious. He did not appear in Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday, or in the previous game: a record-setting seven-hour, 20-minute affair that ended in a Boston loss. But Sale may have influenced his team as much as any player this weekend.
When the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig hit what felt like a backbreaking homer that left the Red Sox trailing by 4-0 in the sixth inning of Game 4, Sale lit into his teammates with an expletive-filled rant.
At one point, he waved two fingers, illustrating that Rich Hill, the Dodgers starting pitcher who was shutting Boston down, had a limited arsenal of pitches. Yet the Red Sox, who had the majors’ best offense during the regular season, were sluggish, particularly their star hitters.
“Oh my God, he was mad at us,” Red Sox second baseman Brock Holt said. Third baseman Rafael Devers added, “I’d never seen him yelling like that before.”
Perhaps it was a coincidence, but soon after that tirade, the Red Sox roared to life — fueled by the bats of role players like Mitch Moreland, Steve Pearce, Holt and Devers — and outlasted the Dodgers for a 9-6 win. It left the Red Sox one victory away from their fourth World Series title in 15 seasons.
A pinch-hit home run by Moreland brought them within one run in the seventh inning. Another blast, by Pearce in the eighth, tied the score. Then, finally, a pinch-hit single by Devers in the ninth put the Red Sox ahead, and Pearce added a Dodger Stadium-silencing bases-clearing double.
Entering the game, the Dodgers were 54-0 when leading by four runs or more in 2018. But once the Red Sox start hitting, they can accomplish rareties. On Saturday they became the second team in World Series history to hit game-tying home runs in the eighth inning or later in consecutive games. The other was the 2001 Yankees.
“One thing about our team, we keep playing,” Alex Cora, the Red Sox manager, said. “It’s been like that the whole time. We know that in the last third of the game we’ve been really good throughout the season, in the playoffs, and Mitch with a big swing and that got us going.”
It simply took a while to get there.
Given the ravaged state of both teams’ pitching staffs after the Game 3 marathon, neither manager announced a starting pitcher for Game 4 until Saturday afternoon. Eduardo Rodriguez had appeared in Game 3 for the Red Sox, but he faced only one batter and threw just six pitches. So Cora asked him to take the mound again a day later, but for much longer.
The Dodgers toyed with the idea of using an “opener,” a growing trend in baseball that involves starting the game with a relief pitcher, based on matchups, and then replacing him with a traditional starter capable of throwing more innings. But they eventually opted against the tactic, thinking that taking Hill out of his usual routine outweighed any potential matchup advantages. For what it was worth, Hill was one of the Dodgers’ two pitchers who did not appear in Game 3, so he was well rested.
Rodriguez, throwing harder than usual, and Hill, vexing batters with his ability to change speeds, dueled for five innings.
The Dodgers broke through in the sixth inning, when Justin Turner scored on an error by Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez, who made an ill-advised throw to first base. Rodriguez, a left-hander, might have been tiring and due for an exit, but Puig, despite being a right-handed batter, has been more successful against right-handed pitching. So Cora left Rodriguez in.
“I pushed him too hard,” Cora said after the game.
When Rodriguez fell behind and threw a 92 mile-per-hour fastball down the middle of the plate, Puig did not miss. Soon after making contact, he flipped his bat and threw both arms in the air. As he rounded the bases, Puig blew kisses toward the stands and flexed his arms.
Rodriguez’s reaction was, understandably, exactly the opposite. After slamming his glove on the ground, he hunched over in distress until his manager came to retrieve him from the mound.
A half-inning later, Sale’s fury still in their ears, the Red Sox trimmed their deficit to one.
A Dodgers pitching move may have helped even more than the lecture.
After six stout innings, Hill walked Xander Bogaerts to lead off the seventh and then struck out Eduardo Nunez. At that point, Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager, curiously hooked Hill, who left the field to a standing ovation. After the game, Roberts explained that Hill had made an unusual request: instructing his manager to keep a close eye on him in that frame because he was tiring.
“He did everything to put us in a position to win a baseball game,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to do a better job of picking him up.”
Soon the Dodgers’ mistakes were magnified. Relief pitcher Scott Alexander walked his lone batter, Brock Holt. Though he has not inspired confidence lately, the right-handed reliever Ryan Madson got the call for his fourth appearance of this series. After Roberts turned to Madson, Cora deployed back-to-back left-handed pinch-hitters.
Facing Moreland, Madson threw a subpar changeup that ended up deep in the right-field pavilion for a three-run homer. Puig, in right field, put his hands on his head, almost mirroring the anguish he had caused Rodriguez.
Clinging to a one-run lead, the Dodgers called on closer Kenley Jansen to pitch the eighth inning against the heart of the Red Sox order. And for the second straight game, Jansen gave up a game-tying home run.
In Game 3, it was to Jackie Bradley Jr. In Game 4, it was to Pearce — a solo blast to left-center field. Jansen’s face bore a nervous expression when Pearce made contact. Pearce held one arm up in the air as he ran around the bases.
Pearce’s hit ended an 0-for-41 streak by Boston’s No. 1 to four hitters since the start of Game 3.
“Obviously, we’ve got some M.V.P.-type guys on our team,” Moreland said, referring to Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, who each are hitting under .215 this series. “But it’s taken all 25 of us to get where we are today.”
In the ninth inning, the Red Sox once again took advantage of the Dodgers’ bullpen and Roberts’s maneuvers. With Holt on second base, Devers poked a run-scoring single to center off Dylan Floro to give the Red Sox a 5-4 lead. With the bases loaded, Roberts brought in Kenta Maeda to face Pearce, who cleared the bases with a double. Bogaerts then drove Pearce home for a 9-4 lead.
It was enough to withstand a shaky bottom of the ninth by Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, who allowed the Dodgers to trim Boston’s lead to three runs.
After the game, Cora made the unusual announcement that David Price would start Game 5 on short rest, not Sale on regular rest, as planned. Roberts insisted it was because the Red Sox liked the matchup.
Sale may still be a factor of another kind.
Asked about his tongue-lashing, Cora quipped, “My English is very limited, so I didn’t understand what he was saying.”
Devers, though, told reporters in the postgame news conference that he had understood Sale’s oration perfectly. “But I can’t say it here,” he said.