Red Sox win the 2018 World Series
The final outcome was perhaps no surprise, as the Red Sox were favored to go all the way, but there was plenty of drama along the way to make it the whole spectacle fascinating to watch. After the Red Sox won Game 1 (see Oct. 24 post), the weather in Boston turned nasty on Wednesday afternoon (October 24), but it cleared up just in time for World Series Game 2 that evening. The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but the Dodgers scored twice in the fourth inning, momentarily rattling the nerves of the Fenway Park faithful. But rookie manager Alex Cora trusted in David Price, who finished that inning and went on to finish two more innings. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Hyun-Jin Ryu loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, and was replaced by former National Ryan Madson walked in one run and allowed two more to score on a single by J.D. Martinez. That was all the Red Sox would need as they won the game, 4-2. It was the second consecutive time that David Price overcame his past frustrations and rose to the occasion in a postseason game; he got credit for the win.
Even though it wasn't an elimination game per se, Game 3 was essentially a must-win game for the Dodgers, as no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the World Series. (Until 2004, of course, no team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series, of course, but then that epic 14th-inning walk-off home run by David Ortiz in ALCS Game 4 turning the momentum in Boston's favor and changed sports history forever.) In the third inning, Joc Pederson hit a home run and the Dodgers held on to a 1-0 lead until the eighth inning. That's when Jackie Bradley Jr. did likewise off Kenley Jansen to tie the game, sending the game into extra innings. In the top of the 13th inning, the Red Sox capitalized on a leadoff walk and then a throwing error by L.A. pitcher Scott Alexander when Eduardo Nuñez hit a squib swinging bunt: the ball sailed past first base, allowing Brock Holt to score from second base. It reminded many of the error by first baseman Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, and it looked like the Dodgers were doomed. But virtually the same thing happened in the bottom of the 13th, as the Red Sox second baseman Ian Kinsley made a throwing error that allowed Max Muncy to score. It was already well after midnight here in the east, and yet the game dragged on for inning after scoreless inning. Nathan Eovaldi, who had been scheduled to start Game 4 for the Red Sox, was doing a fantastic job as a relief pitcher until the bottom of the 18th. That's when Max Muncy, whose career was all but washed up a year earlier, smacked the ball just over the fence in left center field to end the longest game in World Series history. And the crowd (the 40,000 or so who were still remaining, that is) went wild! Final score: Dodgers 3, Red Sox 2. (As Washington Nationals fans know all too well, unti this year the longest game in MLB postseason history had been on October 2014, when they lost NLDS Game 2 to the San Francisco Giants, by a 2-1 score -- also 18 innings.)
I was feeling out of sorts the next day from losing so much sleep that night, but I wouldn't have missed that extra-inning drama for the world. That marathon in Los Angeles took seven hours and 20 minutes, ending at 3:30 AM (EDT), or 12:30 local time.
The first half of Game 4 was a pitchers' duel between Eduardo Rodriguez (Red Sox) and Rich Hill (Dodgers), and neither team scored for the first five innings. In the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers loaded the bases and then scored on a weird play in which the runner was forced out at home but the catcher (Christian Vazquez) threw the ball wide of first base in a vain attempt to get a double play, allowing Justin Turner to score. To make matters worse, the next batter, Yasiel Puig, hit a three-run homer to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead. It seemed they were going to capitalize on the previous night's marathon victory, but in the very next inning the Red Sox pulled to within one run when Mitch Moreland hit a three-run homer. In the eighth inning, Steve Pearce hit a solo homer to tie the game, and in the ninth inning he hit a two-run double. The Red Sox had a 9-4 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, but their closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel once again faltered, as the Dodgers' Enrique Hernandez hit a two-run homer to come within three runs. That was the extent of their comeback, however, and the Red Sox won it, 9-6. [Just when you thought the Dodgers were going] to even the series, the Red Sox batters came alive.
Game 5 was indeed an elimination game, and it really felt like it. In the first inning Steve Pearce hit a two-run home run, catching Clayton Kershaw off guard. In the bottom of the first, David Freese hit a solo homer, and Kershaw pitched four scoreless innings to keep the game razor-tight. But Mookie Betts hit a solo homer in the sixth inning, and J.D. Martinez did likewise an inning later, and Kershaw exited with four runs charged against him. In the eighth inning, Steve Pearce hit a solo home run to pad the Red Sox lead, yet another four-bagger for this unlikely Boston hero. David Price was masterful once again, going seven full innings on the mound, and the Dodgers failed to score any runs for the rest of the game, and only got three hits all night. It was a melancholy end to the World Series. Red Sox 5, Dodgers 1.
When it was all said and done, the Boston Red Sox emerged victorious from the capricious gauntlet that is postseason baseball -- for the fourth time in the last fifteen years. That puts them ahead of the San Francisco Giants (three World Series championships in this century) and the St. Louis Cardinals (two such championships), leaving no doubt that they deserve hearty congratulations for their consistent excellence and relentless competitive zeal. (I updated the Baseball chronology, annual page with this year's World Series outcome.)
Bryce Harper becomes a free agent
For the first time in his career, Bryce Harper is on his own, with no obligations to the Nationals or any other team. At the beginning of the month, he declared that he was becoming a free agent, and as everyone expected, the Nationals made a "qualifying offer" of a one-year $17.9 million contract, which he of course declined since it is less than he made last season ($21.6 million). (See MLB.) He has ten days to accept or reject the offer, and chances are he will explore the market. The winter meeting of MLB general managers is just four weeks away, and rumors will be swirling around for the entire time, most likely. Harper has dropped hints on social media that he'd like to stay in Washington, and I know the feeling is mutual, but it's an open question how the numbers will match up. I still think there's a better-than-even chance he will end up signing a multi-year contract with the Nationals, but that's just a hunch on my part.
As noted in the story linked above, the Washington Nationals were one of the two teams whose payroll went above the threshhold triggering the Competitive Balance Tax, a.k.a. "luxury tax." Their payroll in 2018 was over $197 million. Guess which was the other such team?
Nats bolster bullpen
On October 10, the Washington Nationals made a trade with the Miami Marlins to get right-handed relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough, in hopes of rebuilding what has been a very shaky bullpen. Barraclough has a 3.21 ERA over four seasons with the Marlins, but this year his ERA was 4.20, with a 1-6 record. As with Howie Kendrick and others, the Nats are taking a calculated risk that Barraclough will return to his previous form.
And, after a few days of rumors, the Nationals just signed relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal to a one-year contract worth $7 million. [Contract terms include a conditional option for a second year. Rosenthal is 28 but missed all of this year due to Tommy John surgery. In 2014 and 2015 he he served very effectively as a closer for the St. Louis Cardinals (picked as an All-Star in 2015), racking up 93 saves in just those two years.]
Nats keep same coaches
Soon after the Washington Nationals front office made clear that Dave Martinez will return as manager next year, we learned that the entire 2018 coaching staff will be retained as well.
R.I.P. Willie [McCovey]*
Long-time San Francisco Giant first baseman Willie [McCovey]
Stargell* passed away on October 31, at the age of 80. He was Rookie of the Year in 1959, and in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series (in San Francisco), with two outs and two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth inning, he smashed a line drive that was caught by Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the game. He came just that close to becoming the big hero. He went on to hit 521 home runs in his career, which (as with his team mate Willie Mays) is quite an accomplishment given that many of them were in Candlestick Park. As a reflection of the high esteem in which the left-handed slugger was held, the Giants named the water beyond the right field wall at AT&T Park "McCovey Cove." (From the Washington Post.)
* CORRECTION: Obviously, I meant Willie McCovey, not Willie Stargell, the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger who died April 9, 2001. Serves me right for writing so late into the night. Many thanks to John Geoffrion for the heads-up.
"Chief Wahoo" is retired
In a fitting bow to modern-day sensibilities, the Cleveland Indians announced that the grinning "Chief Wahoo" mascot will no longer appear on any official Indians signs or apparel. I encountered a group of Native Americans protesting when I attended an Indians-Diamondbacks game in the summer of 2014.
Stadium page updates
Mike Zurawski sent me this link to a story about the future home of the Texas Rangers, which will have the same name as their current home: Globe Life Park: nbcdfw.com. Needless to say, that barely scratches the surface of ballpark news (from Mike and from others) that I need to relay...