David Ortiz comes through in the clutch again as Red Sox topple Tigers
BOSTON --- It was impossible. It was inevitable.
A comeback on this night, in this game, after all those consecutive scoreless innings, after all the futility and all that desperation? Impossible.
A grand slam with the game on the line, and David Ortiz at the plate? Inevitable.
He would later say that he wasn't trying to hit a home when he stepped up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, the bases loaded and Boston down 5-1. The Red Sox DH was only hoping "to put a good swing on the ball," David Ortiz said after the game. "If I was telling you about thinking about hitting a grand slam, I'd be lying to you."
Two games. Two classics. Improbably, the ALCS is tied 1-1 after Ortiz ripped his game-tying grand slam—the third game-tying grand slam in postseason history—off Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit in Game 2 Sunday night in Boston. A night after the near-no hitter at Fenway, Max Scherzer pitched brilliantly for the Tigers, holding the Red Sox hitless over 5 2/3 innings. For the Red Sox, it was Jarrod Saltalamacchia delivering the walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
But this game — the Red Sox's 12th walk-off win in postseason history — wasn't about Scherzer, or Saltalamacchia, or any other player.
It was about David Ortiz.
"He's a legend, man," Dustin Pedroia said after the game in the Red Sox clubhouse. "That's it."
"It was like a movie, and right now.... I'm speechless," Mike Carp said.
He has delivered so many times in October, of course. His walk-off home run off Jarrod Washburn in 2004 to send the Red Sox to the ALCS. His two-run shot off Paul Quantrill in Game 4 of the ALCS later that October. Just a week ago, his first career two-homer postseason game against the Rays in the ALDS. But this? Even by his standards, this was ridiculous.
The pitch was the first one from Benoit, who entered the game to face Ortiz, and it was an 74 mph changeup that Ortiz was ready for: he launched it to right centerfield, toward the Boston bullpen. Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter leaped in the air to catch the ball, then jack-knifed over the fence, and into the bullpen. Red Sox relievers huddled around Hunter after he crashed onto the ground. "He risked life and limb to save that team," Red Sox catcher David Ross said.
Hunter said he lost the ball in lights, briefly, then found it again as the ball screeched toward him—he was going full speed when he hit the wall, and he says he had no idea how close he was to making the catch (according to replays, he was remarkably close).
"Out of the guys you don't want to beat you, he beat us -- one of the best hitters in postseason history," Hunter said of Ortiz, his former teammate in Minnesota. "It's tough. You don't want David Ortiz to beat you. Everybody in the whole world knows that this dude can beat you. It happened and it hurts, but what can you do?"
"I saw the video and the reason why I think he didn't catch that ball is because the ball took like a left turn and he was going right," said Ortiz. "[It] looked to me like he kind of touched it."
There will be much second guessing over Jim Leyland's moves in Game 2—his decision to take Scherzer out after 108 pitches, his choice of Drew Smyly to face Jacoby Ellsbury in the eighth — and no decision will receive more scrutiny than his choice to bring in Benoit and not Phil Coke (Ortiz is 1-for-18 against the lefty) with the bases loaded and the great Ortiz coming up to the plate in the eighth. "Coke hadn't pitched a big game for a while," Leyland explained. "Benoit is our guy against the lefties, and we felt he gave us the best chance to get the out." Later, Leyland said, "Looked like we had one in hand and we let one get away, there's no question about that. But there have been two great games, no question about it."
In the Postseason of the Pitcher, it seemed that the story of the game would again be the pitching. The Tigers staff struck out a major league record 1,428 hitters this season, and through two games, have struck out a staggering 31 Boston hitters. The Tigers ran their consecutive shutout innings to 23 in Game 2, and they became the first team in postseason history to post three straight postseason games where their pitchers opened the games with at least five no-hit innings.
On Saturday the Red Sox whiffed 17 times and hit four balls out of the infield, aside from Daniel Nava's ninth-inning single to break up the no-no. And after facing the AL ERA leader, Anibal Sanchez, Boston hitters were up against the likely AL Cy Young, Scherzer, a pitcher we'd last seen in Game 4 of the ALDS against Oakland, saving Detroit's season with two tough and thrilling innings of relief against the A's. Scherzer was dominant in Game 2 from the start—the first ball hit by a Red Sox hitter out of the infield came in the fifth, when Saltalamacchia flied out to deep right.
The Red Sox see a lot of pitches. They work through counts. They worked themselves into a lot of bad counts in Game 1—and they worked themselves into a lot of bad counts early against Scherzer. Boston hitters seemed perfectly content with keeping their patient approach early in the game. Going back to Game 1, through the first 12 innings of the series, Red Sox hitters struck out looking nine times.
The pressure kept building, into the fifth, with Scherzer's no-hitter going, and then into the late innings with the Tigers building on their lead. Things were looking bleak, particularly with the Red Sox facing the prospect of going down 2-0 in the series with John Lackey set to take the mound against Justin Verlander in Game 3 in Detroit, the biggest mismatch of the series.
But the Red Sox hitters kept telling themselves: at some point, the hits will start falling. And they did: a Shane Victorino single with two outs in the sixth to break Scherzer's no-no, then Pedroia's double to make it a 5-1 game. In the eighth, Will Middlebrooks doubled to left field with one out, Jacoby Ellsbury walked, and after Victorino struck out, Pedroia singled through the hole at second to load the bases.
And then it was Ortiz's moment. Ortiz says he knew what to expect on the first pitch from Benoit. "I know they're not going to let me beat them with a fastball in that situation," he said. "Plus, I know that my boy Benoit, he had a good splitter. And I take my chances in the situation."
And so Ortiz swung on the first pitch he saw, and there was the hit that changed the series, the grand slam that was both impossible, and inevitable.