- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
BOSTON -- Even the cop in the bullpen has a beard, as you'll undoubtedly notice when you watch what is certain to be countless replays of one of the epic moments in Boston Red Sox Octobers.
And 50-year-old Steve Horgan of South Walpole, Mass., a 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department, District 4, South End -- the guy you'll see with his arms thrust overhead as Torii Hunter goes head over heels into the Sox's bullpen -- could not have had a better view as the ball launched off David Ortiz's bat sought a safe landing place.
"I saw Torii Hunter running toward the fence,'' Horgan said, "and I saw the ball go over his head, and him going over the wall, and then the whole crowd going crazy.''
Long after Ortiz's game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning on a first-pitch changeup from Detroit Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit transformed the night, the prelude to a walk-off 6-5 Sox victory that ended an inning later in much more pedestrian but still electrifying fashion -- an infield hit by Jonny Gomes off Rick Porcello, a throwing error by shortstop Jose Iglesias, a wild pitch and a game-winning single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- Yawkey Way remained filled with singing, chanting, delirious fans.
Silent for most of the night while Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer spun an eerie reprise of the night before, holding the Red Sox hitless for 5 2/3 innings, striking out 13, and leaving the game after seven innings with what felt like an insurmountable 5-1 lead -- those fans who remained were rewarded for their faithfulness by Ortiz, just as he has done so many times before.
The Sox had never come back to win in a postseason game in which they trailed by four or more runs entering the eighth inning. It had been done only five times previously by anybody in postseason history. But while the Sox did not know it at the time, Ortiz had been serving only appetizers at the barbecue he hosted at his house before the start of this American League Championship Series.
The main dish, served steaming hot and seasoned the way only Big Papi can, came in the eighth inning, the 15th postseason home run of his career and third this autumn taking an honored place among the most dramatic October home runs Ortiz has ever delivered.
"The one guy you don't want to beat you and he beat us,'' an inconsolable Hunter said afterward. "One of the best hitters in postseason history, and this guy hit the ball out of the park and ties the game up, and they end up coming back and winning the game. I'm p-----.''
And Ortiz acted like it was just another day at the office, even though his slam saved the Red Sox from heading to Detroit down two games to none against the Tigers, who had executed four-game sweeps of the New York Yankees (2012) and Oakland Athletics (2006) the past two times they've won the ALCS.
"I'd be like a little schoolgirl running the bases if I would have done that,'' catcher David Ross said, "and he just trotted around like it was nothing, came out and tipped his cap. Another story for him. I was just glad to be able to be in there personally watching."
Prior to Ortiz's shot, the last grand slam hit by a Red Sox player in the postseason was struck by J.D. Drew in Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS against the Cleveland Indians. The Sox, who had fallen behind three games to one in that series, used that home run as launching pad to a Game 7 win and a subsequent four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the World Series.
"Yeah, I do, I do,'' said Sox shortstop Stephen Drew, J.D.'s younger brother. "I was in the playoffs, too, in Arizona, but I saw it.''
Did thoughts of J.D.'s grand moment flick across his mind when Ortiz strode to the plate?
"We just think when he's up we've got a good chance,'' Drew said. "He's done it his whole career. We had a good feeling when he came up with the bases loaded because you know with one swing it could change the game, and it did tonight.''
Drew was asked where on the goose-bump scale Ortiz's slam ranked.
"Huge,'' he said. "To come back, with the way their starting pitchers have been throwing, we've been battling, we've been trying to figure out ways to get one, so this one was definitely up there on the scale.''
It was Ortiz's third home run of this postseason, and for dramatic effect rivals the walk-off home run he hit off Paul Quantrill of the Yankees in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, when the Sox were in straits even more dire than they were Sunday night, trailing the Yanks three games to none. "We had one in hand,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "and let one get away.''
For the better part of two nights, Ortiz had been just as helpless as the rest of his teammates against the Tigers, his frustration on full display as he went hitless in his first seven at-bats, striking out four times.
"I tell you what, man,'' he said. "Postseason is something that can work both ways for you. It can go well if you stay calm. Or it can go bad if you try to overdo things.
"Like last night, pretty much we were all trying to overdo things.''
A night after Anibal Sanchez held the Red Sox without a hit for six innings, striking out a dozen, Scherzer pitched one more inning than Sanchez did, and struck out one more batter (13), while allowing just two hits, Shane Victorino's single and Dustin Pedroia's RBI double off the Wall.
The Tigers, meanwhile, teed off on Clay Buchholz for five runs, dropping a barrage of extra-base hits on the Sox right-hander in the sixth inning -- a Miguel Cabrera home run into a left-field light tower, a Prince Fielder double, a Victor Martinez double, a Alex Avila two-run home run over the visitors' bullpen. Avila also had driven in Detroit's first run with a second-inning single.
The Red Sox, the highest-scoring team in baseball this season, became the first team in postseason history to be held hitless for at least five innings in back-to-back games. In 324 regular-season games spanning the past four seasons, the Sox hadn't gone five innings without a hit once.
But a one-out double by Will Middlebrooks off Tigers reliever Jose Veras began the game-tying rally in the eighth. Jacoby Ellsbury drew a full-count walk from lefty reliever Drew Smyly, with Leyland then summoning his third pitcher of the inning, Al Alburquerque. He whiffed Victorino, but Pedroia lined a single to right, loading the bases.
On came Benoit, pitcher No. 4 in the inning, and one pitch later -- pandemonium. This was the fifth time in his career that Ortiz had produced a postseason hit in the eighth inning or later that had either tied the game or given the Sox the lead. Only Bernie Williams and Pete Rose, with six apiece, have more.
David Ortiz was 29 years old, the same age as Buchholz is now, when Red Sox owners John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino presented Ortiz with a plaque proclaiming him "The Greatest Clutch Hitter in the History of the Boston Red Sox."
That was eight years ago, but the message remains as fresh as ever.
"The numbers came up, that he'd never hit a home run off Benoit, and the first pitch he hits a home run,'' said Buchholz, who was inside, watching on a clubhouse TV. "It was unbelievable sitting in here, just sort of speechless at the time. "That's why this team's where we're at right now, because nobody ever gives up and everybody believes the next guy can do it if you don't get it done."
Especially if that next guy is named David Ortiz.
5hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com
1dESPN Stats & Information