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Hero Max Muncy gives the Dodgers hope, at least for one day

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Until about a quarter to 11 last night, the story of Game 3 was Walker Buehler. The rookie starting pitcher who, in an age of extreme bullpen specialization and expectations that starters need only give their team four or five good innings in the postseason, spun masterful, shutout ball through seven. He allowed only two hits in that time and didn’t walk a batter, ended things with an exclamation point of a strikeout of J.D. Martinez and left with a 1-0 lead.

Buehler’s was an old school, throwback pitching performance. A big boy start that seemed poised to give the Dodgers Game 3 and a chance for a good night’s sleep after it.

Then, suddenly, a game that may have taken place in 2012 or 1985 or 1972 snapped back into 2018. And then it almost lasted into 2019. In the end — seven hours and twenty minutes after it started —  the Dodgers got their win, and by the time it was over it was hard to even remember Buehler’s heroics from its first half. Partially because of how long it took to get there, partially because a greater hero emerged.

The point of divergence between Buehler’s throwback baseball and baseball of 2018 was Jackie Bradley Jr.’s solo homer in the eighth off of Kenley Jansen. It would be the last solidly hit ball for the next four hours. We’ll get to the next hard hit ball in a second, but for a moment, let’s talk about what came in between.

Innings nine through 18 were, let’s be honest, a death march of strikeouts and pop-ups, weak contact and missed opportunities. Game 3 will go down in history due to its length and dramatic ending, but it’s not one — its beginning and its ending aside — that was specifically memorable. In some ways those long in-between innings were a microcosm of baseball in 2018, with their high heat, many strikeouts and a lack of baserunners and action. As anyone who stayed up and watched the whole thing can attest, it was kinda hard to watch for long stretches.

But it was not without its drama. Lost in the postgame celebration was the gutsy performance of Nathan Eovaldi. Like Dante in “Clerks,” he wasn’t even supposed to be here today, yet there he was, taking the mound in the 13th inning and keeping the Sox in it through 97 pitches he had no business throwing. Ninety-seven hard pitches, starting out at triple digits and staying in the high-90s through the end of the game. The one run he gave up in the 13th was not earned and not at all his fault and the one run he gave up in the 18th, well, at some point someone had to break, right? It’s sad that it had to be Eovaldi, really. The guy earned a place in Red Sox history with that outing, even if it ended badly.

But there was, quite obviously, another hero on this night and his name was Max Muncy.

Muncy almost ended it in the 15th with a long drive that just hooked foul before Eovaldi eventually struck him out. In the bottom of the 18th, though, he came through. It wasn’t easy. After falling behind 3-0, Eovaldi fought back, getting a get-me-over fastball for a strike and then having Muncy foul off two pitches. By then everyone was exhausted, but it’s hard to imagine anyone was more exhausted than Eovaldi. His pitch — a cutter which didn’t really cut, but which still managed to register at 90 m.p.h. — was accompanied by a grunt. And was followed by a drive:

 

Muncy’s homer would be historic regardless, coming as it did at the end of the longest game in World Series history. But it has the chance to be one of the most historic home runs in Dodgers history. The gold standard is, obviously, Kirk Gibson’s shot in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. That gave the Dodgers the game and set the stage for them to beat the heavily favored Oakland A’s.

Muncy’s however, could prove to be bigger if the Dodgers can continue to fight off the Red Sox, climb out of heir now 2-1 hole and win this thing. It’ll be seen as the home run that turned what seemed to be an un-turnable tide. A homer that rallied the Dodgers when they were dangerously close to falling behind 0-3 and stretched to their absolute limit in the longest game in which any of their players had ever participated. Muncy’s homer — coming at the end of his improbable breakout season — could prove to be the most improbable spark.

But even if it doesn’t — even if Boston rights the ship after their Game 3 loss and wins two of the final four games and takes the Series — Muncy and the Dodgers and their fans had this moment. This incredible, walkoff homer in the wee small hours that, for now, has given them new life.

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. LOUIS (AP) Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”

THREE TIMES THE FUN

Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.

TRAINING ROOM

Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.

UP NEXT

Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.