After nearly being shut out and nearly no-hit in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox found themselves staring down the barrel of the same gun midway through Game 2. Max Scherzer was dominating the Boston bats once again and had a 5-0 lead in the sixth without allowing a hit. The fact that this marked the third consecutive game (and in the postseason, no less) that a Tigers starter took a no-hitter past the fifth is incredible in itself, and made the events of the next two hours that much more remarkable.
Here is how the Red Sox were able to engineer yet another improbable comeback during this impressive 2013 season.
The First Hit – This was the biggest hurdle to clear for the Red Sox in both of the first two games of the ALCS. The only one they managed in Game 1 was Daniel Nava‘s single in the ninth. In Game 2, Shane Victorino broke the ice with a two-out single in the sixth. It was the first real optimistic offensive moment for Boston of the night, as the team only had two baserunners to that point.
It turned out that spark was enough to start turning things around. The next batter, Dustin Pedroia, followed with a wall-ball double. Because Victorino had been running on the pitch, he was able to score easily from first. Though that was all the Sox would get in the inning, it was enough to give Boston some offensive confidence and breathe some life into the home crowd.
Maintaining the Deficit – Now that Boston scored, the pitching staff couldn’t let the game get any more out of hand as they entered the late innings. While starter Clay Buchholz had pitched pretty well through five, he got rocked in the sixth and manager John Farrell was forced to go to his bullpen.
Brandon Workman came in and cleaned up Buchholz’s mess in the sixth. Then in the seventh, he and Felix Doubront successfully navigated through the heart of the Tigers’ order, setting down Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder in order. Doubront returned in the eighth and gave up just one walk to Alex Avila, but otherwise got out of the inning unscathed, keeping the score 5-1.
Max Out– Jim Leyland gave the Red Sox a gift in the eighth. The manager decided to pull the 21-game winner after seven innings and 108 pitches. He had given up just the two hits and one run he had surrendered in the sixth and had struck out 13 Boston batters. The Red Sox had not found a way to solve him.
So the fact that Leyland went to the bullpen was very odd, but was the best outcome Boston could have hoped for. The Detroit bullpen owned a 4.01 ERA during the regular season, which was the fourth-worst in the American League, and it was against the Tigers’ relievers that the Red Sox had its only real success the night before. With the Red Sox up against the ropes, Leyland helped them back to their feet.
The strange thing was that Scherzer probably could have gone another inning. His 108 pitches was a number he had eclipsed 14 times already this year, including in Game 1 of the ALDS on October 4th. He hadn’t started a game since then and only appeared in two innings of relief in Game 4 of that series, throwing just 47 pitches. Having not started in 10 days, and with a track record of going even deeper into games, the decision to pull him was questionable at best.
Capitalizing on Opportunity – It wasn’t enough the Red Sox no longer had to face Scherzer as they still faced a four-run deficit and had just two innings left to take advantage of that. After Jose Veras got Stephen Drew to ground out, Will Middlebrooks doubled to left. Leyland then called on Drew Smyly to set up the lefty-lefty matchup with Jacoby Ellsbury, who promptly walked.
Another big decision loomed for Detroit’s skipper: turn to lefty Phil Coke or closer Joaquin Benoit? Ortiz was only 2-for-20 in his career against Coke, though Coke has been injured and particularly bad this year, posting a 5.40 ERA, including a 11.57 mark in September. Against Benoit, Ortiz was 6-for-22 and had never hit a home run. Benoit is also the best pitcher in the Detroit pen.
The nod went to Benoit and it’s a call that will forever be second-guessed. He grooved a first pitch splitter that Ortiz’s son would have crushed. Big Papi put that and Hunter into the Red Sox bullpen, and tying the game at five.
Holding Firm – After getting a new life, Farrell wasn’t going to get cute with his bullpen and went right to the man who has steadied Boston’s late game ship. And closer Koji Uehara did exactly what he’s done all season. He faced three batters in the top of the ninth and picked up three outs. He threw just nine pitches, eight for strikes. The momentum was all the home team’s.
Closing it Out – After Benoit’s quick meltdown, Leyland turned to Rick Porcello to pitch the ninth. Jonny Gomes led off with a slow grounder to short, which Jose Iglesias couldn’t get to first base fast enough, and actually threw it into the stands. It was an odd twist of fate as the defensive whiz, who seems to be immune to committing errors, forced a careless one that helped the team that traded him away in July.
With Gomes now on second, Porcello delivered a wild pitch, allowing him to move to third with still no one out. Rather than intentionally walking the bases loaded and setting up a force at home, which wasn’t an outlandish option, Porcello pitched to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who lined one into left past the drawn-in infield. As Gomes crossed home plate, it gave the Red Sox an improbable 6-5 win and tied the ALCS at one game a piece.
For the Tigers, this is a brutal defeat. They were just four outs away from taking a 2-0 lead in the series heading back to Detroit. Now, they’ll have two days to regroup.
For the Red Sox, it’s another magical win for a season that has seen no shortage of them, and they evened up the series after having been thoroughly outplayed through a game-and-a-half.
For everyone, it means at least one more game in this epic series. Already, in just two games, Games 1 and 2 were both captivating and thrilling. Intense, one-run games are what the MLB playoffs are built upon. There have been two of them so far. Thanks to Boston’s incredible Sunday night win, there is a better chance we could potentially see five more.