Ortiz Launches Red Sox Back into ALCS with Stunning 8th Inning Slam


Let’s start with deflation.  Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series.  Top of the 6th inning.  The Red Sox have accumulated one hit in their first 43 at-bats, over 15 innings of play in the ALCS.  1 for 43.  That’s a stretch that would send about half of all major league hitters into a deep, dark funk that may or may not include a demotion to AAA.  1 for 43.  That’s a .023 batting average.  Yes, they were still getting on-base (walks and Shane Victorino plunkings), but there was zero momentum in that lineup.  And there were many at-bats that ended in exasperation, hitters turning to the home plate umpire (Joe West in Game 1 and Rob Drake to a lesser extend in Game 2), for some kind of explanation of their futility.  Check-swings went unchecked.  Long walks back to the dugout.  Anibal Sanchez tossed out as uneven (66 strikes and 50 balls over 6 innings) a no-hit bid as you may ever see.  But Max Scherzer was flat-out mowing them down.  It was ugly.  To make things worse, the Tigers put up a “crooked number” in baseball parlance, and plated four runs in the top of the sixth.  For some reason, John Farrell and Juan Nieves decided Clay Buchholz didn’t need any kind of mid-inning intervention.  The big hits came one after another.  The breakdown, hitter-by-hitter:

Top 6

 

1. Torii Hunter flies out to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
2. Miguel Cabrera homers (1) on a fly ball to left field.
3. Prince Fielder doubles (1) on a line drive to left fielder Jonny Gomes.
4. Victor Martinez doubles (2) on a line drive to right fielder Shane Victorino. Prince Fielder scores.
5. Jhonny Peralta lines out to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
6. Alex Avila homers (1) on a line drive to right field. Victor Martinez scores.
Coaching visit to mound.
7. Omar Infante singles on a line drive to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
Pitching Change: Brandon Workman replaces Clay Buchholz.
Coaching visit to mound.
8. Don Kelly walks. Omar Infante to 2nd.
9. Austin Jackson grounds out, third baseman Will Middlebrooks to first baseman Mike Carp.

For the less-obsessive, less-intense Red Sox fan, this sequence was a death knell.  The air went out of Fenway Park.  Fox stopped cutting to anxious folks, and instead, the deflation was evident without close-ups.  This feeling persisted even after the Sox finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning, with a lone run.  The lead still seemed insurmountable.  Four hits seemed unlikely, much less four more runs.  And yet…the Red Sox still have one hitter left from that 2004 World Series team.  One man doesn’t flinch, doesn’t seem to absorb the stress of the situation, but remains placid during these moments.  In fact, he seems born for the stage.  The pivotal moments exist solely for David Ortiz. Okay, David Ortiz and the hitter doing the most damage for the likely NL-champion St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Beltran.  Okay, even though Red Sox fans don’t want to hear it, David Ortiz, Carlos Beltran and Mariano Rivera.

But let’s get back to Game 2.  Bottom of the eighth inning.  Down 5-1, and on the verge of facing Justin Verlander on the road in Detroit for Game 3.  Not exactly an enticing predicament.  Then Mr. “Old School” himself, the venerable chain-smoking, caricature of a baseball manager, Jim Leyland, made a decision.  He replaced the future Cy Young Award winner with a decent reliever named Jose Veras, who the Tigers acquired at the deadline from the spendthrift Astros.  Veras pitched well in Game 1.  Veras is somewhat useful, using his long arms to snap off a mean, biting curve-ball.  They had a four-run lead.  These statements are all true.  What is also true is that Max Scherzer was making the Boston Red Sox look like the Houston Astros.  And he’d thrown only 108 pitches, striking out 13 in 7 innings, while allowing all of four base-runners.  It’s possible that Leyland was starting to look ahead to Game 3, or the possibility of Scherzer in the World Series, with a lead that should have felt more than comfortable and only six outs from taking firm command of the ALCS.  Scherzer had thrown 47 massively taxing pitches in Game 4 of the ALDS against Oakland on three days’ rest.  It wasn’t exactly a no-brainer to keep Scherzer in the game.  But when he took Scherzer out, this happened:

Bottom 8

Pitching Change: Jose Veras replaces Max Scherzer.
Defensive Substitution: Jose Iglesias replaces shortstop Jhonny Peralta, batting 6th, playing shortstop.
1. Stephen Drew grounds out, shortstop Jose Iglesias to first baseman Prince Fielder.
2. Will Middlebrooks doubles (1) on a line drive to left fielder Don Kelly.
Pitching Change: Drew Smyly replaces Jose Veras.
Coaching visit to mound.
3. Jacoby Ellsbury walks.
Pitching Change: Al Alburquerque replaces Drew Smyly.
Coaching visit to mound.
4. Shane Victorino strikes out swinging.
5. Dustin Pedroia singles on a ground ball to right fielder Torii Hunter. Will Middlebrooks to 3rd. Jacoby Ellsbury to 2nd.
Coaching visit to mound.
Pitching Change: Joaquin Benoit replaces Al Alburquerque.
6. David Ortiz hits a grand slam (1) to right field. Will Middlebrooks scores. Jacoby Ellsbury scores. Dustin Pedroia scores.

Jubilation at Fenway.  Jubilation across Red Sox Nation.  Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS all over again.  The game didn’t end there.  To be honest, the series began there.  It wasn’t a 3-0 deficit in the 9th inning.  But it felt like that.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s single won the game an inning later, and the jubilation was back. If the Red Sox go on to win the series, there can be no doubt that this situation: Jim Leyland’s decision, the absence of Max Scherzer, the presence of formerly homer-prone Joaquin Benoit, and the superhuman deity that is Big Papi, at the plate on the October stage, will linger in the memories of baseball fans far into the winter.  Oh Papi, My Papi.  Our nation turned it’s lonely eyes to you.  And you swung.

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