LOS ANGELES — Chris Sale stood in the back of the dugout as the World Series was slipping away and started screaming.
“He’s got two pitches!” the Boston Red Sox ace hollered to his left among a stream of profanities, referring to Los Angeles Dodgers starter Rich Hill.
Then he shouted to his right.
And then straight ahead, pointing with his pitching hand and extending his ring and middle fingers for emphasis.
Sale stepped down, kept on shrieking and raised his right hand, his head bobbing up and down and a fire in his eyes like a Shakespearean king exhorting troops into battle.
“It scared me a little bit,” Rafael Devers said, “because I had never seen him yell like that, and the words that he was saying, I had never heard that come from him before. But, you know, we came out sluggish and that moment helped us get motivated for the rest of the game.”
Boston had just fallen behind by four runs in the sixth inning Saturday night, nine outs from finding itself tied 2-2 in a World Series that seemed to be a runaway just 27 hours earlier. The Red Sox had managed only one hit in six innings.
“We felt that we had no energy, actually none whatsoever,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “It had to do with Rich Hill, the way he was throwing the ball.”
Sale did not respond with reassuring words like the ones delivered by David Ortiz in his dugout huddle in St. Louis after the fifth inning of Game 4 five years ago.
This was more like Justin Verlander’s motivational message to the Houston Astros when he popped up the stairs in the very same dugout during Game 2 last October.
“Chris Sale in his leadership kind of in the middle of the game said, ‘Hey, we got to get it going,’ and the guys responded,” hitting coach Tim Hyers would later explain. “We capitalized and struck quick and struck often at the end.”
Boston rallied on Mitch Moreland’s three-run homer off Ryan Madson in the seventh, and Steve Pearce’s solo shot against Kenley Jansen tied the score in the eighth, both homers coming from pinch hitters.
Brock Holt doubled with one out in the ninth and scored on Devers’ single off Dylan Floro, Pearce hit a three-run double against Kenta Maeda, and Xander Bogaerts’ RBI single built a five-run lead. With a 9-6 victory, the Red Sox grabbed a 3-1 Series lead and kept rolling toward their fourth title in 15 seasons.
“I was down the tunnel and I heard someone yelling,” Holt later recalled.
Holt turned to Mookie Betts and asked: “Who’s yelling up there?”
“He said, ‘Sale.’ Oh, my God. He was mad at us,” Holt said. “I think that kind of lit a fire under everybody. We didn’t want to see him mad anymore. So we decided to start swinging the bats a little bit.”
Sale had been announced as Boston’s starter against Clayton Kershaw on Sunday, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora announced after the game he was switching to David Price and saving Sale for a possible sixth game at Fenway Park on Tuesday.
Game 4 seemed like a test Boston had never had to face.
A 17-2 start meant the Red Sox could coast to the playoffs en route to a team-record 108 wins.
Other than an opening loss to Houston in the AL Championship Series that seemed like a bump, the Red Sox have approached another title like a marathoner pacing along the course, noting mile markers and counting down to the finish line.
Time to map the parade route.
Design a 2018 ring to dazzle.
After two nights of Fenway fun, the flight west seemed like the final stretch toward the inevitable.
Then came an epic 18-inning stumble that left the pitchers’ arms frayed, bodies and minds exhausted. J.D. Martinez called it like getting “punched right in the face” but said players marveled at the experience.
“That was pretty sick,” he said. “Everyone was like, dude, this is crazy.”
Then came a run-scoring throwing error by catcher Christian Vazquez and Yasiel Puig’s three-run homer against Eduardo Rodriguez in a four-run sixth inning Saturday that seemed like a crusher.
Sale was not going to let the Red Sox lose quietly.
“Guys, dig a little deeper. Let’s keep moving forward. We’re a good team. Let’s not just roll over,” Hyers said was the message. “Chris Sale is a leader, and Chris Sale did it the way Chris Sale knows how to get the team moving. And so we have to give him a lot of credit. And it was that perfect timing.”
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