They led by four runs. They needed eight more outs.
Yasiel Puig was preening around the bases, Kobe Bryant was leading cheers from behind home plate, Dodger Stadium was roaring like a freight train and swaying like a palm.
Then, a horrible managerial move. Then, boos. Then, silence.
One day after winning the longest game in World Series history, the Dodgers suffered a dramatic Saturday night collapse that may lead to the longest winter in baseball history.
Dave Roberts started it, and the Boston Red Sox ended it, pouncing on his inexplicable decision to pull Rich Hill out of a one-hitter in the seventh inning to pummel weary Dodger relievers into a 9-6 comeback win in Game 4 of the World Series.
With one out in the seventh, the Dodgers were on the verge of tying the series at two games apiece with a pivotal Game 5 on Sunday at Chavez Ravine.
By the time the evening ended, that Game 5 had been transformed into one of desperation, the Red Sox now leading the series three games to one.
Shortly after Saturday’s game ended, Boston fans crowded around their team’s dugout and chanted, “Let’s Go Red Sox” while, in the stands, Dodgers fans were chanting, “Let Go Of Roberts.”
In an interview room in a stadium tunnel, Roberts sat placidly with his arms folded and tried to explain. This needed a lot of explaining.
“This is a tough loss,” he said in the understatement of the season.
The Dodgers entered the seventh with a 4-0 lead after scoring four runs in the sixth on a Boston error and a three-run homer by Yasiel Puig. They also had a pitcher throwing the game of his life.
Hill had allowed just four baserunners and one single in the previous six innings. Only a couple of balls were even hit hard. He appeared to be in great shape, although Roberts said Hill warned him to watch for signs of tiring.
“He said, ‘Keep an eye on me, I’ll give you everything I have, let’s go hitter to hitter, just keep an eye on me,’” Roberts recounted.
Hill began the inning with a walk to Xander Bogaerts, but then he struck out Eduardo Nunez and still seemed fine. At the time, Hill had thrown 91 pitches, but he had seven strikeouts and was apparently able to pitch longer.
Roberts, though, saw it differently. So with the crowd groaning in shock, Roberts ran out of the dugout to replace Hill with Scott Alexander.
“Right there, I know Rich gave everything he could, competed, left everything out there,” Roberts said. “The walk to Bogaerts, he started losing it a little bit … we got a lefty in the pen that’s done it all year long getting lefties out.”
So Roberts apparently thought Hill was telling him he was tired. But afterward, though Hill acknowledged asking Roberts to watch him, he said he felt fine.
“We went hitter to hitter in the seventh, ultimately that was part of it,” said Hill. “I felt like I was throwing the ball well, though.”
While the booing fans were outraged, there was one group of people who were thrilled to see Hill removed. You guessed it. The Boston Red Sox.
“Rich Hill was absolutely on fire,” said Boston reliever Joe Kelly. “For him to get out of the game … we’re excited.”
And that Dodger reliever who gets lefties out? Not this time. Alexander walked Brock Holt on four pitches and was immediately pulled by Roberts amid a cascade of boos.
Ryan Madson was the new pitcher, and he was no Rich Hill, either, as one out later he allowed a first-pitch drive into the right-field pavilion by pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland, a three-run homer that closed the gap to 4-3.
The parade of weary relievers was on, and it got ugly, quickly.
The eighth inning began with Kenley Jansen, about 24 hours after he had thrown two innings and 32 pitches in the 18-inning Game 3 victory. One out into his work, he allowed a home run to Steve Pearce, breaking an 0-for-41 slump by the Red Sox’s first four hitters, and tying the game. Jansen has been plagued by home runs all season, and this was no different.
By the time three more Dodgers relievers — Dylan Floro, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda — allowed five Red Sox runs in the ninth, it felt like a foregone conclusion.
Roberts had made a mistake that could not be fixed. It was the same mistake he made in last year’s World Series against the Houston Astros, pulling Hill too early in a devastating Game 2 loss. It was the kind of pitching move that has haunted Roberts throughout this season, with fans blaming him for the Dodgers’ perceived underachievement.
This time, the mistake even reached the White House, where President Trump sent out a tweet that, though filled with spelling and punctuation errors, perhaps mirrored the feeling of many Dodgers fans.
“Watching the Dodgers/Red Sox final innings. It is amazing how a manager takes out a pitcher who is loose & dominating through almost 7 innings. Rich Hill of Dodgers, and bring in nervous reliever(s) who get shellacked. 4 run lead gone. Managers do it all the time, big mistake!”
Many will feel this decision should cost Roberts his job. That is unfair and unlikely. He has led the Dodgers to three straight National League West Division titles and consecutive World Series appearances in his tenure.
“Moves we made all year have worked out. We wouldn’t be in this position if they didn’t,” said Hill. “Things just didn’t work out the way we wanted to.”
It would be hard to imagine that Roberts would be fired after this one awful moment. But then, it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers, just eight outs from redemption, suddenly finding themselves on the verge of extinction.
Rich Hill was pulled, and so perhaps was the rug from underneath the Dodgers’ 2018 season.