Well, things sure looked bleak for the Massachusetts Nine.
After striking out 17 times and nearly being no-hit in Game 1 of the ALCS by Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers bullpen (Daniel Nava singled off Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit with one out in the ninth) it appeared to be a case of deja vu all over again in Game 2.
Probable AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer did not allow a hit until the sixth and in seven innings of work gave up one run on two hits and struck out 13 batters.
The Tigers scored four of their five runs in the sixth on a home run by Miguel Cabrera, a double by Victor Martinez and a two-run home run by Alex Avila. The Tigers catcher drove in three of their five runs having singled in a run in the second. All the Tigers’ runs were scored off Clay Buchholz. When Sox manager John Farrell finally took out Buchholz, I asked, “What kept you?”
But what a difference 24 hours make. In this case it was the Tigers bullpen. After pitching three scoreless innings in Game 1, the bullpen was ineffective in Game 2. The eighth inning began with Jose Veras. He retired Stephen Drew on a groundout, but then gave up a double to Will Middlebrooks. Tigers manager lifted Veras in favor of lefty Drew Smyly to face Jacoby Ellsbury. Smyly walked Ellsbury. Now the Sox have runners on first and second with one out. Leyland removes Smyly and brings in Al Alburquerque. He makes Shane Victorino look silly by striking him out.
When Dustin Pedroia strode to the plate I told my roommate Christopher that this was the most crucial at bat in the game. If Petey reached base then the tying run comes to the plate in the form of “Big Papi” David Ortiz. I was feeling optimistic given that Petey had driven in the Sox only run in the sixth on a wall ball double. Petey did not disappoint as he singled to load the bases. Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield made a point of holding Middlebrooks at third to give Big Papi a chance to hit.
Leyland came out of the dugout to lift Alburquerque and bring in Benoit, the Tigers’ fourth pitcher of the inning. Although Benoit is a righty and Ortiz is a lefty batter, Benoit has had good success against Big Papi. That is until tonight.
On the very first pitch, Ortiz did what he has done so many times before over the past decade. He launched one into the Sox bullpen to tie the game 5-5.
The ball wasn’t the only thing that landed in the Sox bullpen. Tigers rightfielder Torii Hunter flipped into the pen head first in between the Sox bullpen catcher and a Boston police officer who was too excited at Papi’s dinger to notice. Hunter was helped to his feet by the Sox bullpen corps. Despite being bloodied and bruised, Hunter remained in the game.
Benoit recovered from blowing the save by striking out pinch hitter Mike Napoli. It was the 15th time the Sox struck out tonight after striking out 17 times last night. This has now set a LCS record. But one swing of a bat those 32 strikeouts suddenly didn’t hurt so much.
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara retired Don Kelly, Austin Jackson and Hunter in order in the top of the ninth. The game remained tied at 5-5.
I wondered aloud if Leyland would stick with Benoit or bring in Rick Porcello who was warming up in the bullpen. Leyland opted for the latter. Normally a starting pitcher, Porcello has been assigned to the bullpen in the post-season.
Jonny Gomes led off the inning. After striking out thrice against Scherzer, Gomes was happy to see someone else on the mound. He hit a slow roller to Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias. A little too slow. Iglesias should have held onto the ball, but he threw it past Prince Fielder which allowed Gomes to go to second. The winning run was now in scoring position.
This brought up Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty hit the hardest ball of the night off Scherzer in the fifth as he launched one near the Pesky Pole. But the wind knocked it down into Hunter’s glove.
Salty appeared to have popped out to Fielder, but the ball just landed in the stands near a little boy. The Tigers’ bench thought there was fan interference, but the replay showed the young fan did not reach out onto the field. This fan was no Jeffrey Maier.
The plot thickened when Porcello uncorked a wild pitch which allowed Gomes to reach third with the winning run only 90 feet away.
With new life, Salty singled between third and short which was enough to score Gomes. Sox win 6-5. Pandemonium ensued. The ALCS is tied 1-1.
In a space of about 30 minutes, the Red Sox went from being dead in the water to being in the driver’s seat. Yes, the Sox still have to face Justin Verlander in Detroit on Tuesday afternoon. But if they could overcome tonight’s odds then anything is possible. It is why I love this game.
Oh, how I would have loved to have been at Fenway tonight. I was at Fenway to witness Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS when the Sox overcame a 7-0 deficit after seven innings to win 8-7 on a walk-off single by J.D. Drew. Of course, hardly anyone remembers this game because the Rays won the ALCS in seven and went to the World Series.
If the Tigers come back to win the ALCS then Game 2 will scarcely merit a footnote. However, if the Red Sox win the AL pennant then this game will be remembered for many years to come.
Did I say I love this game?