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BOSTON -- He was running out of time.
That was the thought that kept running through Shane Victorino's head.
His mind was going a thousand miles an hour -- it tends to do that -- and as the innings ticked by in this Game 6 ALCS playoff game, his team trailing 2-1 and unable to score, he couldn't help but think, "I'm the goat."
"I was wondering, 'How am I going to explain not getting that bunt down?'" he confessed.
His job in the third inning was clear-cut: Move along Xander Bogaerts and Jacoby Ellsbury, who had drawn back-to-back walks against Max Scherzer. It was an opportunity to strike first in a scoreless game against a masterful pitcher who rarely made mistakes.
Victorino took a ball, then squared up and waited to pounce on the right pitch.
"I got a fastball," he said. "It was what I wanted, but I tried to be too fine with it. It ended up costing me."
Victorino watched in horror as the ball popped into the air, the one thing that should never happen when you put down a bunt. Scherzer alertly broke toward the ball and slid underneath to catch it.
Boston's right fielder walked back to the dugout trying to maintain his composure.
It was a tall order. Victorino's emotions have always been his best asset and his worst curse.
As a child, he was routinely tossed from athletic competitions for flipping off the opposing coach or picking fights with the other team. He was diagnosed with ADHD, a condition so invasive he must remain on medication the rest of his life to control it.
He has learned to manage his moods, but it's easier to do when he's productive on the baseball field, and he hadn't been that during the ALCS.
"It eats at me when I don't do well," he admitted, "and I wasn't doing my job."
It didn't help that Dustin Pedroia followed his failed bunt with a first-pitch bomb that snaked just foul in left field. Had it stayed fair, it would have been a bases-clearing home run. Instead, Pedroia ended up grounding into an inning-ending double play.
The Red Sox walked off with nothing, and Victorino blamed himself.
He had spent another sleepless night on Friday, tossing and turning and replaying his struggles at the plate. He knew the Tigers thought they had solved him -- just throw the guy a curveball! -- and he closed his eyes and tried to envision himself putting the ball in play. Even in his dreams, that became a chore.
Victorino had heard the scuttlebutt, tried to tune out the critics who felt manager John Farrell should have moved him down in the order, or sat him down altogether.
"I was aware of it," he said. "But I knew the guys hadn't given up on me. I knew the manager hadn't either. And I wasn't about to give up on myself."
His chance at redemption came in the bottom of the seventh, with the score stuck on 2-1 Tigers.
The bases were loaded and Detroit manager Jim Leyland signaled for reliever Jose Veras.
When Victorino stepped into the batter's box, his cumulative numbers against Tigers pitching in this series was 2-for-22 with nine strikeouts.
He is normally a switch hitter, but after back and hamstring injuries plagued him during the regular season, he had abandoned that and hit only from the right side from Sept. 3 on.
Yet he struggled so mightily against Detroit's hurlers he tried to revisit the left side of the plate in Game 5 to see if he could snap out of his slump. The results were (ahem) underwhelming. He hit from the left side and went 0-for-3 against Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez then went back to batting righty against right-handed relievers Veras and Al Alburquerque, striking out both times.
|Shane Victorino watches his game-changing grand slam sail over the Green Monster.|
Saturday night, in Game 6, he was back batting righty against Veras.
As he walked to the on-deck circle, the public address system played his signature Bob Marley song.
And then a wonderful thing happened.
The Fenway crowd, which can be ruthless when you don't perform (just ask reliever Franklin Morales), began serenading the Flyin' Hawaiian in unison.
"Don't worry 'bout a thing," they crooned, "cuz every little thing's gonna be all right."
"I couldn't believe that," Victorino said. "After the bad bunt, and me not hitting, they were still with me."
Veras quickly got ahead of Victorino with an 0-2 count. Predictably, the third pitch was a curveball.
"I was just trying to tie the game," Victorino said. "I wasn't thinking grand slam, hit it out of the park, any of that. I was just trying to put the ball in play, to give us another chance."
When he connected, the crack of the bat told him everything. It made that noise, the thwack that lets you know you got it all, like when you hit a golf ball long and high and straight.
As he watched the baseball fly toward the monster seats, Victorino, who was motoring around the bases as quickly as his heart was racing, realized it was gone, realized he had just broken the game open, realized the failed bunt would now be a footnote instead of a headline.
Grand Slam. 5-2 Boston. Bring on the St. Louis Cardinals.
"You know," he said, basking in the afterglow of the win on the field with his teammates, "you live for moments like these."
As he rounded third and headed toward a mass of red jerseys at home plate, Victorino pounded his chest so hard he suspected he bruised his sternum. He later made it clear his celebration was not meant to disrespect the Tigers.
"I don't like when teams show that kind of emotion," he said. "And I hope they understand it was a special moment for me, for the city."
This is not Victorino's first postseason grand slam. He also hit one in Game 2 of the National League Division Series in 2008, when he wore the uniform of the Philadelphia Phillies.
It was in the early innings of the game against Milwaukee pitcher CC Sabathia, the first grand slam in Phillies playoff history. The Phillies went on to win the World Series and Victorino became a household name in the city of Brotherly Love.
He has just taken a giant leap toward the same treatment in the city that has "B Strong" cut into its outfield grass.
|Shane Victorino celebrates with his son after Boston's pennant-clinching Game 6 win.|
"This one was definitely more dramatic, especially considering the circumstances," Victorino said. "I mean, this place, this city, these fans, all of it, it's just amazing.
"For all of them to be singing to me, 'Everything's gonna be all right,' I will never forget that. Never.
"I came here so I could be a part of this great baseball city, and with all the tragedy we've had and the way Boston has come together ... it's just amazing."
His teammates, who stood by him as he faltered, mobbed him one more time for good measure once the game finally ended.
"It's a money play," said teammate David Ortiz. "I don't care if he was 0-for-23, 0 for whatever, it's a money play to come through at the right time, and he did.
"Now we forget about 0-for-23, whatever. Everyone is starting at zero."
The right fielder embraced his wife, his young son, his teammates, even some random fans that somehow gained access to the man who propelled the Boston Red Sox to the World Series.
"I could have been the goat," said Shane Victorino. "Instead, I turn out to be the hero."
He looked around at the championship hats and the flashbulbs popping and champagne spewing.
"All right," he said. "Here we go."