Dave Dombrowski put together a great Red Sox team in 2018.

Yes, you heard me right. For all the hate and frustration I have toward Dave Dombrowski for every lazy, uncreative move he made after the 2018 World Series to torpedo a sensational Red Sox roster that was built to contend for years, I have to give him his props for 2018. Other than a lackluster bullpen, which has been a Dave Dombrowski staple for 35 years, the 2018 Red Sox were an unstoppable wagon that won 108 games before romping their way through three other 100-win teams to reach the Promised Land. Even the bullpen issues were navigable thanks to the cunning and ingenuity of Alex Cora, the best on-field manager in Red Sox history.

There is perhaps no greater testament to how good Dombrowski and Cora were in 2018 than Game 4 of the World Series; the game where the Red Sox stars took a backseat to the other guys on the roster. 

Game 3 was the longest postseason game in MLB history, an 18-inning affair that lasted seven hours and 20 minutes. After falling an Ian Kinsler error short of taking a commanding 3-0 series lead, the Red Sox lost Game 3 on a Max Muncy walk-off home run. Nathan Eovaldi threw 97 pitches in six nearly flawless innings of relief, yet still declared that he’d be available if needed in Game 4, which started a mere 17 hours after Muncy crossed home plate. Both pitching staffs were worn out, setting the stage for an unlikely Game 4 pitching matchup that ultimately showcased the outstanding depth of this Red Sox team.

Eduardo Rodriguez, the promising lefty that was still falling short of his considerable potential four years into his MLB career, was matched up against 38-year-old veteran Rich Hill, the Milton, Massachusetts native who had already made two stops in Boston during his 13-year career (he’s still pitching today at age 43). A right ankle sprain had tarnished the second half of what had been a great season for ERod until that point, and he hadn’t started a game in over a month. Hill had pitched well for the Dodgers in the postseason and was making this start on seven days rest, but was not expected to last long against baseball’s most lethal offensive attack.

Both pitchers surprisingly stifled the opposition for the first half of the game. Hill’s trademark curveball, the bread-and-butter pitch that his whole game was based on, arced and swooped like a pterodactyl at lunchtime. Rodriguez kept the Dodgers off balance by spotting 94-mph fastballs while mixing in his cutter and changeup accordingly. Austin Barnes and Christian Vazquez called impeccable games for the first five innings, which flew by with nary a threat.

I always found ERod to be a bit of an odd duck. Between his endless recoveries from strange injuries and his standoffish demeanor, I could never get much of a feel for his temperament. A great example of this was showcased in the top of the third after he was hit in the right hand by a Rich Hill fastball. The pitch didn’t hurt him (a Rich Hill fastball couldn’t hurt Elijah Price from Unbreakable), yet he jogged like an old man in the park on the next play, a Mookie Betts dribbler to third. With no shot in hell of retiring Betts at first, Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner charged the ball, fielded it, and fired to second to retire Rodriguez and record the first out of the inning. It was a remarkable play for a couple reasons:

  1. that it would even occur to Turner to throw to second, since Rodriguez had been leading off first base and Bengie Molina could’ve beaten the throw standing up with a piano on his back.
  2. that ERod would ever dog it to that extent during the World Series.

I know Rodriguez’ ankle had been injured earlier in the year, but this is the World Series. If you have a chance to put runners on first and second with nobody out in a scoreless game and the heart of your order coming up, you do what you gotta do. At least that’s the way I see it. 

With the game still scoreless, Turner led off the bottom of the fourth with a single and the L.A. crowd came alive (as much as any L.A. crowd ever comes alive, that is). Rodriguez bore down and responded with big strikeouts of superstar trade deadline acquisition Manny Machado and NLCS MVP Cody Bellinger before getting Yasiel Puig to pop out to second to end the inning.

Hill held the mighty Red Sox to one single through six scoreless innings, an unthinkable development until Fox reporter Tom Verducci gave it context by revealing that the Red Sox were the worst hitting team in the league against breaking balls from lefthanded pitchers in 2018. Fox has always brought the best obscure, yet intriguing statistics of all the network baseball broadcasts.

The dam finally broke for Rodriguez when he plunked David Freese to lead off the bottom of the sixth. After striking out Muncy, ERod gave up a double to Turner and intentionally walked Machado to load the bases for the lefthanded Bellinger, who hit a sharp grounder to Sox first baseman Steve Pearce. Pearce fired home to force out pinch runner (and future Red Sox leader) Kiké Hernandez, but Vazquez’ return throw got away from Pearce and past second baseman Brock Holt, who was backing up the play. Turner came around to score on the error to put the Dodgers up 1-0.

The next batter was Puig, who launched a 3-1 cockshot cutter halfway to La Brea for a three-run homer to extend the lead to 4-0. Puig pimped in the box, ERod fired his glove into the mound, and L.A. was nine outs away from tying the World Series at two games apiece.

Watching this game live from my mother’s house on Cape Cod, I remember Puig’s bomb feeling like the backbreaker. The Boston bats had fallen silent. Maybe they were tired from essentially playing a doubleheader the previous night. Maybe Rich Hill was just on point that night. Whatever the reason, the Red Sox had grown cold and flat, with no end to this funk in sight.

Going back to the beginning of Game 3, the Red Sox had scored two runs on just nine hits in their last 24 innings. L.A. had a solid bullpen anchored by Kenley Jansen, who had recorded 38 saves in 2018. Chris Sale, who had been a veritable shell of himself since August, was slated to start Game 5 against legend-in-the-making Clayton Kershaw. I quietly prepared myself to face the proposition of the Red Sox losing Games 4 and 5, which would’ve forced two consecutive do-or-die games at Fenway. 

Sale, however, had other plans.

When the Red Sox hit the dugout at the end of the sixth, Sale rose from the bench and began screaming at his teammates. Sale has been known to have a temper, but he’s never been one to cuss out his teammates on camera. However, the sluggishness the Red Sox had displayed over the past two games demanded drastic measures.

“This guy’s shutting you down with two f***ing pitches! Let’s f***ing go! Pick it up! Pick it up! This is f***ing embarrassing!”

The Red Sox hitters responded.


Rich Hill walked Xander Bogaerts to begin the seventh and then struck out Eduardo Nunez before leaving the game to a standing ovation. Lefty specialist Scott Alexander replaced him and promptly walked Brock Holt, the only batter he faced, on four pitches. Ryan Madson replaced him and got ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr (pinch-hitting for Vazquez) to pop out to second. With two on, two out, and the pitcher’s spot due up, it was lefthanded first baseman Mitch Moreland’s turn to step out of the dugout to pinch hit.

Moreland was a key piece of the Red Sox lineup in the first half of 2018, earning his only All-Star appearance with a litany of clutch hits in big spots. Some nagging injuries and the deadline signing of Pearce, perhaps Dombrowski’s greatest mid-season acquisition ever, had reduced Moreland’s playing time late in the year. However, his nose for the big moment made him a fantastic weapon to have lingering on the bench late. 

This is where Alex Cora outshines most MLB managers.

In Game 1 of the World Series, Eduardo Nunez pinch hit for a promising rookie named Rafael Devers to face lefty Alex Wood. Nunez would later explain that Cora called him the night before to tell him that he would pinch hit against Wood at some point late in the game, probably for Devers. Nunez prepared all day to face that pitcher in that spot. When the time came, Nunez was ready.

It’s safe to say that Moreland had been prepared in a similar fashion before Game 4. Righthanded reliever Ryan Madson was one of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ most trusted late-inning arms. With Christian Vazquez in the eight-hole and Mookie Betts leading off (both righties), logic would dictate that the bottom of the order would be the lane where Madson would likely be utilized. This left the opportunity for Cora to counter Madson by summoning Moreland to hit in the pitcher’s spot between Vaz and Mookie.

Moreland was undoubtedly prepared to hit late in the game against this pitcher in this type of situation. And Moreland responded the same way Nunez did. The only difference?

Moreland did it on the first pitch he saw.

Rich Hill threw his head back in horror. Yasiel Puig hung his in disgust. The Red Sox had pulled within a run, 4-3.

It was one of the biggest pinch hit at bats in Red Sox history, right up there with Bernie Carbo in the 1975 Series. It revitalized an offense that had looked utterly gassed for the equivalent of nearly three entire games leading up to it.

It was only their second hit of the game. But it was far from their last.

Eventual World Series MVP Pearce stepped up in the eighth and hit a solo shot against Kenley Jansen to tie the game at four. 2018 was Pearce’s fifteen minutes of fame. He notched seven home runs and 26 RBI in only 50 games, including a three-homer affair in Fenway against the hated Yankees. He was even more relentless in the playoffs, culminating with his transcendent World Series performance.

I can’t deny it. Dave Dombrowski was feelin’ it in 2018.

Joe Kelly continued his greatest stretch as a member of the Red Sox by pitching scoreless seventh and eighth innings, finishing his night by punching out Yasmani Grandal. Kelly’s five years in Boston alternated between flashes of dominant brilliance and stints of frustrating ineptitude. His command came and went like the wind, with October of 2018 being the rare exception. His omnipresent 100-mph fastball remained, but for this one glorious month Pedro Martinez apparently lent him his changeup from 1999. Kelly was nothing short of dazzling throughout this entire playoff run, finally giving the Red Sox the fireman/setup man that Dombrowski never acquired for them before or during the season.

The momentum was entirely in Boston’s favor going into the top of the ninth, and Brock Holt kept it going with a one-out opposite field double off Dylan Floro, a great piece of hitting from yet another non-star player. Holt always brought great energy on the field, and the 2018 playoffs were truly the pinnacle of his career. Between hitting the first playoff cycle in MLB history against the Yankees in the ALDS and delivering several big hits like this one en route to the championship, Brock Holt turned a region of Sox fans into Brock-star disciples that will speak his name with reverence for eternity.

With Holt on second, that Devers kid (call me crazy, but I think he’ll go far) grounded a single up the middle to plate the go-ahead run. Four batters later, Pearce was back to deliver the coup de gras, a bases clearing double to right center off Kenta Maeda that put the Red Sox up 8-4 a mere two innings after they trailed 4-0.

The air was sucked out of Dodger Stadium much like it had been sucked out of Minute Maid Park a week earlier when Andrew Benintendi made an iconic diving catch to rob Alex Bregman of a game-tying single.

There’s nothing quite like the sound of a home crowd realizing that the championship hopes they’ve carefully nursed like squirrels hording acorns in late fall have been flitted away like chalk dust in a high wind. It was the sound of thousands of fans beginning to cope with the reality that this would not, in fact, be their year. They were about to be down three games to one against a historically dominant team that was now putting the finishing touches on their 118th win of the season. A team that had lost only three playoff games and was getting significant contributions from every part of its roster.

A championship team.

As he’d done all postseason, Craig Kimbrel did his best to keep the opposition in the ballgame. He committed the cardinal sin for a relief pitcher with a big lead: he walked the leadoff man in the bottom of the ninth (on four pitches nonetheless). A Kiké Hernandez homer (the first of many that Red Sox fans would see him hit in the playoffs) followed, and suddenly the Xander Bogaerts single that scored Pearce in the top of the ninth looked a lot more important than it had seemed when it was hit.

9-6 Red Sox.

Kimbrel had been lights out all season long before becoming a maddening “heart attack closer” once the playoffs began. He’d dotted his fastball and broken backs with his slider all season long, to the point where it felt weird to see hitters make contact against him. Yet as soon as the 2018 regular season ended, he became 1986 Bob Stanley.

Still, for all the issues Kimbrel had during this run; the walks, the hit batsmen, the home runs, and the endless parade of full counts; he did not blow a single save opportunity. Six for six.

Game 4 of the World Series was not a save opportunity, as Kimbrel entered with a 9-4 lead. The Hernandez home run got our insides churning though, and Justin Turner’s third hit of the game had some of us reaching for the Pepto Bismol. The tying run was in the on-deck circle with Machado and Bellinger, two of the most dangerous hitters in the league, due up next against a closer who had no clue where the baseball would end up after it left his hand.

These were not your father’s Red Sox though. Machado grounded out to third and Bellinger, on Kimbrel’s requisite 3-2 pitch, flied out harmlessly to Benintendi to secure Boston’s stranglehold on the Series.

Game 4 of the 2018 World Series is Dave Dombrowski’s magnum opus. The offensive core of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, and Xander Bogaerts went a combined 2-17 with one RBI. The starting pitcher did not crack the rotation for the first two playoff rounds. The high-priced closer nearly melted down for the fifth time that postseason.

Luckily, we had the other guys. Pearce, Holt, Moreland, and Devers went 5-8 with eight RBI and six runs scored. The volcanic offense that suffered a 24-inning ice age went Krakatoa on the L.A. bullpen just in time to remind the Dodgers that they didn’t belong on the same ballfield as the 2018 Boston Red Sox.

There’s no shame in that though. No team in MLB could stand toe-to-toe with these guys.

108-54 in the regular season. 11-3 in the postseason. Third best pitching in the AL. Best offense in MLB. 

When all was said and done, Manny Machado literally bended the knee to the superior team. 

It didn’t even matter that the AL MVP couldn’t buy a hit for the first 13 games of the playoffs or that their gunslinging ace was a shell of himself or that they had no setup man for the first six-and-a-half-months of the season or that their electric closer couldn’t throw a strike.

That’s how incredibly deep and well-managed this team was. If the top five guys didn’t beat you, the other twenty guys would. Because when you stepped onto the diamond against the 2018 Boston Red Sox, you were going to lose. That’s all their was to it. The whole league learned that the hard way, including the three unfortunate 100-win teams that humiliated themselves trying to stand up to them in October.

It was an amazing year with an amazing team. Amazing enough to convince me that Alex Cora is the greatest manager the Red Sox have ever had.

And almost amazing enough for me to look past all the unforgivably awful moves Dave Dombrowski made in Boston from the last pitch of the 2018 World Series until he was fired less than a year later.


By Luke

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