LOS ANGELES -- With a Cody Bellinger throw and a Max Muncy blow, the Los Angeles Dodgers have crawled back into the World Series. It only took the longest game in the history of the Fall Classic to do it.
Muncy's dramatic opposite-field home run in the 18th inning off Boston's Nathan Eovaldi lifted the Dodgers to a will-testing 3-2 win in Game 3 of the World Series, which started late Friday afternoon but ended early Saturday morning, cutting the Red Sox's lead in the World Series to 2-1.
It was L.A.'s first walk-off Series win since Kirk Gibson's Game 1 homer off Dennis Eckersley in 1988, which sparked the Dodgers to their last title. Muncy became the first player to hit a game-ending homer in a World Series game since former Cardinal and current Dodger David Freese in 2011. Not bad for a player who was released by the Oakland A's before last season.
"It's been a dream," Muncy said. "This whole year has been a surreal experience that it's hard to put into words. Just getting a chance to play in the World Series has kind of capped it off. Getting a chance to hit a walk-off home run, obviously there's not many words I can use to describe that. The feeling was just pure joy and incredible excitement."
It also was an act of mercy for everyone on hand at Dodger Stadium and watching on TV. The homer ended a game that lasted 7 hours, 20 minutes and ended at 3:30 a.m. Boston time. The time of game would have been long for a doubleheader. It also was the longest World Series contest by innings.
According to Stats LLC, the game took longer than the entire 1939 World Series, when the Yankees swept the Reds in a combined 7 hours, 5 minutes. A record 46 players appeared in the game -- 23 for each team. There were two stadium-wide renditions of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," in the middle of the seventh and 14th innings. One fan in the left-field bleachers might or might not have read all 1,225 pages of Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace."
"Parts of three games, I think," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Obviously it's a great one to win. It was a must-win for us. Our guys just persevered. It wasn't pretty."
The game endured despite several near-misses at ending it in a more reasonable time.
One game-extending moment happened in the 13th, when the Dodgers tied it on an error. With Muncy on second base and the Red Sox one out away from seizing a 3-0 lead in the series, Yasiel Puig hit a hard ground ball up the middle. Boston second baseman Ian Kinsler stumbled while making the play and threw wide of first baseman Christian Vazquez, allowing Muncy to race home with a season-saving run.
The stunning turnaround came minutes after Boston had taken a 2-1 lead when Brock Holt scored from second base on a throwing error by Dodgers reliever Scott Alexander. If the game had ended that way, it would have been the first game-winning run to score on an error in a World Series game since Game 6 in 1986 -- the Bill Buckner Game that lives in infamy in Red Sox lore.
Instead of exorcising that particular demon, the Red Sox now have to wonder if some new ones have been stirred up.
"The effort was amazing," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "It was a great baseball game. Seven hours, whatever it is. People back home are probably waking up to the end. But it's probably one of the best, if not the best, game I've ever been a part of."
In a sense, Bellinger helped set up the winning run eight innings earlier with a defensive gem in the 10th. With runners on the corners and one out, Boston pinch hitter Eduardo Nunez lofted a high fly ball to medium-depth center field.
Bellinger backed up on the ball so that he could catch it with forward momentum, did so, and uncorked a rocket throw to catcher Austin Barnes that beat pinch runner Kinsler by a full step and sent the Dodger Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
The play was reminiscent of another great throw in a World Series by a Dodger outfielder. In 1974, Joe Ferguson gunned down Oakland's Sal Bando in Game 1 of that Series in what some saw as the greatest throw in Dodgers history. If it was No. 1, Bellinger might have bumped it down a spot.
It also was redemptive for Bellinger, who was picked off of first base by Boston's David Price with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth. Another game-extending play. So, too, was a near-game ender. Muncy just missed being the hero in the 15th when he whacked what would have been a no-doubter down the right-field line. But it just curled outside of the foul pole, and Muncy ultimately struck out.
"From where I was standing, when I saw it land in the seats, I saw how far back it was, which was only a couple of rows," Muncy said. "Doesn't mean I didn't get my hopes up when I'm looking in the dugout and they're checking the replay."
When Muncy did end the game, the vast majority of the Dodgers crowd was still on hand and still energized despite the late hour. It was an impressive display for a fan base that has the reputation of arriving late and leaving early. The pitch Eovaldi threw that Muncy hit out was the 561st of the game.
"The crowd tonight was outstanding," Roberts said. "Was loud from before the first pitch."
Before the game ever got to extra innings, the Dodgers looked to be set up with a relatively brisk win in a terse contest marked by great pitching from rookie Walker Buehler. Vicious is really the only word to describe Buehler's outing.
"I think we've got to go back and really appreciate Walker's outing," Roberts said. "He pitched his tail off. And put us in a chance to win that game."
Buehler was in command from the start, striking out Mookie Betts to begin his Series debut and fanning Martinez to end it. Buehler threw a career-high 108 pitches, his count driven up by 26 foul balls by the disciplined Red Sox lineup. As it turned out, fouling balls off was about all Boston's league-best offense could do against Buehler.
Boston managed only two singles against Buehler and didn't get a runner to second base against him. Buehler struck out seven, making him the first rookie in postseason history to have four or more outings with that many K's. The 24-year-old also became the second-youngest Dodger with a scoreless World Series start. Johnny Podres was 23 when he did it in Game 7 of the 1955 Series.
"His stuff is amazing," Cora said. "He made adjustments. We were putting good at-bats early on. He was throwing the four-seamer, and all of a sudden he started throwing cutters and changeups, and he was able to keep us off-balance."
After lackluster performances from the Dodgers' middle relievers in two losses at Boston, Roberts thought he discovered the perfect antidote. After Buehler finished his seven innings, Jansen was called in for a six-out save. One Jackie Bradley Jr. swing spoiled the scheme and set us down the long path the game ended up taking.
Bradley's two-out solo homer in the eighth knotted the score and gave him three homers and 10 RBIs with two outs this postseason. He became the fourth player in Red Sox history to hit a tying homer in the eighth inning or later of a World Series game. It was the first such homer for Boston since Bernie Carbo's famed blast in Game 6 in 1975.
That Bradley was even in the Boston lineup was yet another feather in the cap of Cora, who has been drawing plaudits for his decision-making all October. Needing to find a way to keep J.D. Martinez's bat in the lineup, most thought the likely odd man out would be Bradley. Instead, Cora stuck with his regular center fielder and brought in Andrew Benintendi off the bench.
Joc Pederson gave the Dodgers the only offense they could muster early in the game when he yanked a Rick Porcello pitch over the fence in right field with two outs in the third. It was L.A.'s first hit of any kind since Puig's RBI single in the fourth inning of Game 2.
Pederson has turned into a home run king in October over the past two World Series. He now has four homers in the Fall Classic, tied for third-most in Dodgers history with Gil Hodges. Game 3 was only his sixth career World Series start.
"You look at his career in the postseason, he's had a lot of big homers against some very good pitching," Roberts said. "He doesn't let the moment get too big for him. That hit to get us going was big."
While the Buehler gem might get lost in the shuffle of such a long, eventful game, it might have lasting impact on the next couple of games. While Roberts was able to get to extra innings using only two pitchers, Cora was left to turn to Eovaldi, who had been penciled in to start Game 4. Eovaldi ended up throwing 97 pitches -- 36 more than Porcello -- in a yeoman's effort.
"I've got to go back and talk to the relievers, and we'll know more tomorrow, but as far as their usage, this is a World Series," Roberts said. "And we're coming off an off-day. Considering what we went through tonight, we're in good shape with our pen. We really are."
The Red Sox will be scrambling for a Saturday starter. Cora suggested only that it probably would be a "lefty" going in Game 4. The only two Boston players who didn't get into Friday's game were lefties Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz, although lefty Eduardo Rodriguez threw only six pitches. Sale would be starting on three days' rest.
For that matter, the identity of L.A.'s starter also is mysteriously up in the air. More than an hour after Friday's game finally ended, the Dodgers' official Twitter account declared that their Saturday starter was to be determined. Rich Hill had been announced as L.A.'s Game 4 starter, and both he and Roberts spoke after the game as if that plan remained in place.
The win allowed the Dodgers to avoid falling into a 3-0 hole that only the 2004 Red Sox -- with the help of a famous stolen base by Roberts -- have climbed out of. Instead of responding to questions about that long-ago miracle comeback, Roberts can now focus on the Dodgers' quest to even the series in Saturday's Game 4.
After Friday's exercise in perseverance, expect the Dodgers to be ready to go again.
"As the game kept going, you look up and see the 18th inning and you're like, holy cow, where did the game go?" Muncy said. "But those last nine innings or so just kind of blended together.
"As far as the dugout went, there was no deflation, no give-up, nothing at all. They got that run, and we said, we've got to get another one. There was no panic or anything, just, 'Let's just get to work.'"