Fenway Park. October 13th, 2013.
The Red Sox are hosting the Detroit Tigers in game two of the American League Championship series. After going up 1-0 in game one with a dominant pitching performance that saw Aníbal Sánchez and company take a no-hitter into the 9th, the Tigers are looking to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. And they have just the guy to do it. Max Scherzer, who had just come off a Cy Young campaign, takes the mound. He been pitching well too, winning his start and even being used in relief against the Athletics in the previous round.
After getting Ellsbury to ground out, Shane Victorino managed to get on in the first. Like he had done more than anybody all season, he was hit by a pitch. How did Scherzer respond? He struck out Pedroia on 3 pitches and Ortiz in 6. Yikes. I guess they don’t call him Mad Max for nothing.
More of the same would follow. 2 strike outs in the second, another 3 in the third. In total Scherzer would strike out 13 batters and scatter 2 walks, 2 hits, and 1 run across 7 innings of work. Through five and two-thirds innings in fact, he had yet to allow a hit. Meaning the Red Sox – a team was second in the league in hitting – had managed 1 hit through almost 15 innings.
On the other side of the ball, things were not going much better for Boston. Clay Buchholz – one of the most inconsistent pitchers in recent Red Sox history – who had only given up one run through five, saw the wheels fall off in the sixth. He was chased from the game after giving up a monster home run to Miguel Cabrera high off the light towers, back to back doubles to Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez, and another 2-run missile home run to Alex Avila. The Sox managed to get one run back in the bottom of the inning, but trailed 5-1 going into the bottom of the eighth.
Then magic happened.
Six outs away from going down 2-0 in the series before heading back to Detroit, the Red Sox unleashed the best inning of baseball I’ve ever seen. Jose Veras started the frame but gives up a double to his second batter faced, Will Middlebrooks, and gets replaced by Drew Smyly. Smyly walks Jacoby Ellsbury. Sensing that something is up, Tigers manager Jim Leyland immediately pulls Smyly for Al Alburquerque. He gets Victorino swinging but Pedroia pokes a single to right, loading the bases.
Now batting, number 34, David Ortiz.
This is a nightmare scenario for the Tigers. Down 4 with the bases loaded and none other than David Ortiz at the plate, Leyland brings in his fourth pitcher of the inning, Joaquin Benoit. Now Benoit has been incredible all season, posting a 2.01 ERA and leading his team in saves, but what he or Leyland don’t realize is that Papi knows whats coming. As he would later explain in his autobiograpgy, PAPI: My Story, Benoit struck Ortiz out with a changeup he’d never shown him before months earlier that season. Ortiz remembered that and knew the next time he faced Benoit, he’d see that change up on the first pitch. For the Tigers, it’s too late.
“Red Sox trailing 5 to 1 and Papi gets in, and the big right hander Benoit delivers. Swing and a high deep drive into right field, that one’s scalded to right! Hunter on the move, racing back… It’s over his head! It’s gone! It’s into the bullpen! This game is tied! This game is tied! David Ortiz! David Ortiz! DAVID ORTIZ!” – Dave O’Brien, WEEI
Fenway erupts with cheers that could surely be heard across the city. Papi, as we’ve seen so many times before, trots the bases showing no emotion because, to him, this is normal. Benoit stands paralyzed on the mound, staring out into the abyss with the complete look of defeat in his eyes. Mike Napoli grounds out to end the eighth and the ninth inning begins but the game is already over. A Red Sox win is inevitable.
Koji Uehara enters and makes quick work of the Tigers. Future Sox starter Rick Porcello then takes the mound for the Tigers in the bottom of the inning, promptly gives up a single to Jonny Gomes who advances to second on a throwing error, hurls one to the backstop allowing Gomes to advance to third on a wild pitch, and gives up the game winning single to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Game over. What. A. Moment.
In many ways this game was the perfect representation of that 2013 Red Sox team. A team coming off of a last place finish. A team that persevered through tragedy and triumph. A team that never gave up and played to the last out (they led the league in walk-off wins). Every championship team always has some magic on their side, a game or moment you can point to, where you just know it can be no one else. In that moment it was clear, the Red Sox were destined to win it all.
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-Nick Hannigan (Twitter: @TheNickHannigan)