Inside Pitch Magazine, March/April 2019

@CoachYourKids: Game Three Lessons

By Darren Fenster, Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator, Boston Red Sox & Founder/CEO, Coaching Your Kids, LLC
Red Sox's CelebratingThe game’s first pitch was thrown at 5:10 p.m. local time in Los Angeles. Its final pitch was delivered at 3:30 in the morning back on the East Coast in Boston.

What happened during the seven hours and twenty minutes in between that was Game Three of the 2018 World Series was nothing short of baseball history. It had everything. And if you somehow had the motivation (or caffeine in your system) to stay awake for the whole thing that culminated with Max Muncy’s walk-off home run, you couldn’t help but go to sleep with just a little more baseball acumen than when you woke up.

Eighteen innings. One game needed two to finally be decided. It was the longest game in World Series history by four innings in length and by one hour and 19 minutes in time. Both teams combined to use 46 players, meaning only four guys between the Red Sox and Dodgers did not appear in the game. There were 561 total pitches thrown over the course of 118 at bats, both new records for baseball’s Fall Classic.

It wasn’t all of the shattered records that made this game so incredibly great; it was everything that happened between the lines, that enabled those records to be shattered. The game, put simply, was a coach’s dream, with countless teachable moments that every single one of their players could benefit from, truly exemplifying the value of learning by watching.

In the top of the 13th inning, Brock Holt showed outstanding anticipation on a pitch in the dirt and was able to advance to 2nd on an impressive dirt ball read. He would later score the go-ahead run on an error by the pitcher who threw the ball away on a soft ground ball up the 1st base side. In the bottom half of the inning, Max Muncy alertly tagged up from 1st to 2nd on a foul pop out along the 3rd base side. He would then score the tying run from second with two outs on a throwing error by the second baseman that the first baseman couldn’t keep in front of him. 

The Red Sox put runners on 1st and 2nd with nobody out in the 15th when Christian Vasquez laid down what appeared to be a good bunt on the 3rd base side of the mound. But it didn’t get the job done after Kenta Maeda made a great play to nab the runner at 3rd. The game also had instances of players not hustling out of the box, and didn’t get an extra 90 feet on the bases because outfielders backed up misplays and got the ball back in quickly and accurately. How could this game have possibly changed had those guys gotten to 2nd base? An answer we will never know…

So the next time your coach gets on you for not hustling or backing up plays; obsesses about tiny details like perfecting cutoffs and relays; spends time focusing solely on baserunning; teaches you how to bunt; and consistently works to get pitchers better at fielding their position, thank him. That is a coach teaching you how to be a baseball player. And baseball players win. 

But it wasn’t just the fundamentals of our game on display that this game taught us. In Nathan Eovaldi, we learned all about selflessness and competitive drive. In Alex Cora, we got to see true leadership. And in the Boston Red Sox, we saw first-hand the true meaning of team. I honestly believe that the Red Sox won the World Series when they lost Game Three. 

The game itself was an instant classic that neither team deserved to lose. And it was the individual effort by Eovaldi that most assuredly had no business tagging an ‘L’ next to his name. Pitching on one day’s rest after appearing in the first two games of the series in Boston, Eovaldi toed the rubber for seven innings out of the bullpen, more than any pitcher in the game besides Dodgers’ starter Walker Beuhler. With essentially no one else left to come into the game for the Red Sox, he emptied his tank, inning after inning, for his team, extending the game into the wee hours of the morning with every zero he put up with his twice surgically repaired elbow. It was a performance that had some of his teammates inspired to the point of tears. It was a performance that all of his teammates knew deserved better fate. And it was a performance that Alex Cora couldn’t help but recognize following the game’s heartbreaking end for his club.

Minutes after the game ended, Cora witnessed each of his starting pitchers from the first three games of the World Series offer to start Game Four. Chris Sale insisted he was available. David Price, on two days rest, volunteered to take the ball. Even Rick Porcello, who started the very game they had just lost, told his manager that he, too, would be good to go. And yes, even Boston’s folk hero Nathan Eovaldi and his seemingly bionic arm wanted his name up for Game Four.

Not one for post-game speeches, Cora gathered his band of brothers in the clubhouse after what had the potential of being a debilitating, Series-swinging loss, wanting to make sure his team knew two things: first, how proud he was of the effort displayed on that field, and specifically how incredible Eovaldi’s performance was; and more importantly, that his club still had a two-games-to-one lead in the Series. Cora managed to get his team to leave a clubhouse that they entered demoralized, completely inspired as they looked forward and turned the page.

“By the end of (the meeting), we felt like we won the game,” said shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

And it was that feeling of confidence, fueled by Cora’s speech and motivated by Eovaldi’s outing, that the Red Sox collectively took into games four and five of the World Series. The rest, as they say, is history.

The 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox may very well go down as one of the best teams of all time. But their success was far from a sure thing, having entered the postseason with countless questions about how they would be able to neutralize the power of the Yankees formidable lineup; how they were going to deal with the Astros’ big three arms of their rotation. Their success was a product of everything we as coaches strive for not just on the field, but off the field as well. And all we needed was Game Three to show us all of those things in one place and one time, for 18 long and glorious innings.

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