For the first 290 pitches of the American League Championship Series, the Detroit Tigers dominated the Boston Red Sox.
The 291st pitch changed the complexion of the series.
With a 5-1 lead, the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit entered the game and promptly served up a grand slam to clutch Red Sox slugger David Ortiz on a fastball down the heart of the plate. The ball cleared right fielder Torii Hunter’s glove, the multiple gold glover fell into the Red Sox dugout, and the had-been punchless Boston lineup tied the score at 5-5.
Detroit then gave away Game 2 and a chance at a commanding 2-0 lead in the best of seven series, losing 6-5 Sunday night after Jonny Gomes reached second on a throwing error from former Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias and Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to left field to plate him and start a mob scene near second base. Boston evens the series at 1-1 as the series shifts to Game 3 on Tuesday at Comerica Park in Detroit.
“We will play until the final out ,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters after the game. “David plays it clutch in the postseason and it was no bigger than tonight. He’s such a smart hitter. He was looking for one pitch to turn loose on and we were fortunate enough to get it tonight.”
A day after Boston broke up a no-hitter in the ninth inning and lost 1-0 in Game 1, Tigers ace Max Scherzer held the Red Sox hitless through five innings. Shane Victorino singled with one out to break up the no-hitter and Dustin Pedroia’s double off the Green Monster gave Boston its first run of the series and narrowed Detroit’s lead to 5-1.
Scherzer, who struck out two batters in a 1-2-3 seventh inning, allowed one earned run on two hits and two walks with 13 strikeouts in seven innings. Sixty-nine of his 108 pitches were for strikes. Boston’s 32 strikeouts in back-to-back games in an MLB record. It was also Detroit’s third-straight postseason game of no-hitters through five innings, also a MLB record.
“Scherzer was terrific and he was spent,” Leyland told reporters after the game. “Last night our bullpen was flawless and tonight it wasn’t good.”
Jose Veras got a strikeout to start the bottom of the eighth to extend Detroit’s MLB postseason record of 17-straight innings with a strikeout. That’s when Detroit unraveled.
Will Middlebrooks doubled off Veras and lefty Drew Smyly came in to walk Jacoby Ellsbury. Albuquerque came in to strike out Shane Victorino but surrendered a single to Pedroia to load the bases for Ortiz. Benoit came in to face a slugger that he held to a .273 batting average and just one RBI with six hits and five RBIs in 22 at-bats. Benoit tried to get ahead in the count but Ortiz pulled the first-pitch fastball 387 feet for a home run over the outstretched arms of Hunter, who flipped over into the Boston bullpen.
Porecello came in and took the loss in the ninth inning. Koji Uehara picked up the win for Boston after getting a strikeout and pair of pop-up outs for a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
The Tigers wasted their breakout offensive game of the postseason. They settled in early and took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Victor Martinez hit a one-out double and moved to third on a single from Jhonny Peralta. Catcher Alex Avila drilled a single up the middle for the RBI but Boston starter Clay Buchholz got out of the inning with a key double play on a hard grounder from Omar Infante.
Miguel Cabrera appears to be healthier, as evidenced by his solo home run to kickstart a sixth-inning rally. Prince Fielder doubled off the wall and scored on a Martinez double for a 3-0 lead. Avila then crushed a two-run homer for a 5-0 lead and the Tigers appeared to be cruising to take control of the series.
“Tonight was a tale of two different games inside of one game,” Farrell said. “They dominated us for 14 innings on the mound. Then we get a hit and double and life was injected into us. And then we just keep coming.
“Once again, our guys don’t quit until that final out.”