Three games so far in the Championship Series round, and three one-run margins in three low-scoring affairs. What would these playoffs, ratcheting in intensity, bring us next?
Turned out it brought us a rerun, from 2004.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Tigers 0 1 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 5 Red Sox 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 4 1 6 (Series tied 1-1) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Tigers 5 27 5 13 5 38 1 1 14 Red Sox 10 6 9 13 8 9 4 62 36 WPS Base: 264.8 Best Plays: 75.2 Last Play: 6.6 Grand Total: 346.6
“To be a member of baseball’s print media is to be a selfish SOB. You root for one thing: simplicity. The earlier the outcome is sealed, the more time you have to write a masterpiece.” — Jeff Pearlman, The Bad Guys Won
Testify, brother. I wrote this recap twice, once over the first seven and five-sixths innings, and again for the last inning-minus. The first version was about a pretty dull game. This one is about a game that turned very interesting very late. Average them together, and you get the moderately above-average game shown by the numbers.
The game was yet another long one, but that had more obvious causes than Clay Buchholz, who has been haunting my lack of dreams lately. He wasn’t that laggardly tonight, probably because pitching with men aboard slows him down, and he had three perfect innings out of his five and two-thirds. It did slow down Max Scherzer too, on the rare occasions when he had men on.
I promised you Tim-isms, and I have two for this game. The first falls into the deep category of lazy cliches. During the first at-bat of Jonny Gomes, a player who has bounced around a lot but frequently ended up on division-winning teams, McCarver opined, “It may not show up in the numbers, but this guy is a winner.” Tim has a long memory if he can reach that far back into his early announcing tutelage to recall such an old chestnut. Since he can remember everything that happened when he was catching Bob Gibson in a couple of World Series—and tell you all about it—this isn’t such a surprise.
Fans riled up by the huge number of Red Sox strikeouts the night before were booing home plate umpire Rob Drake for his strikeout calls by the second inning. The players started chirping in the third. It never built to Game One’s levels, though. Perhaps shock and numbness set in, seeing the Ks soar all over again. Game One had 17, Game Two had 15. It got to the point where Detroit turning a double play to end the fourth was a disappointment, taking away the opportunity for more punch-outs.
The fifth was the apparent game-breaking inning, ignited by Miguel Cabrera putting a ball over the Green Monster. He got a ball on the outer half for this one, so it was more than just his upper half turning fast on something inside. Still, his high shot was probably helped by the closeness of the wall. Showing he’s not fully healed was his gingerly trotting around the bases, looking something like the aged Babe Ruth must have on legs that were breaking down beneath the years and pounds.
Prince Fielder followed by hustling out a double off the Monster. He’d come home on Victor Martinez‘s two-bagger, and walk very slowly back to the dugout: he was done running for a while, thanks. This sequence of hits gave us the second opportunity for a Tim-ism. As the pitches in question were replayed, McCarver reeled off the locations. “High slider … high fastball, high curveball.” On his last words, the FoxTrax of the third pitch showed it clearly cutting through the very bottom of the strike zone. Well, it was high at one point.
So shell-shocked were the Boston fans, it took until the second pitch to Jhonny Peralta for them to start chanting Steeee-roiiiids! He flied out, and then Alex Avila flied out of the park. The cameras caught a man in the stands wrenching the ball out of a woman’s hand to throw it back on the field.
This seemed more than sufficient, as Max Scherzer was pitching the third straight Detroit game to take a no-hitter into the sixth. He lost it with two outs in the sixth—soon after Buck and McCarver observed that was the longest he had taken a no-hitter in his career. He even gave up a run, but it didn’t seem to matter, especially after he struck out David Ortiz to end the inning. Even with their team down five and then four, the Boston fans were still making tons of noise.
Cabrera produced another thrill in the seventh, belting a pitch about 405 feet. Unfortunately for him and for any narratives declaring his injury woes a thing of the past, he hit it to the 420-foot corner right of center field, and into Jacoby Ellsbury‘s glove. Still, if he can take a ball more than 400 feet the opposite way, maybe he is feeling better.
Scherzer departed after seven, with 107 pitches and 13 strikeouts under his belt. It looked like a simple path to the end of the game. It was not.
Jim Leyland had his hook on full-automatic in the eighth. When Jose Veras gave up a one-out double to Will Middlebrooks, out he went. Lefty Drew Smyly entered to face Ellsbury, walked him, and got shown the door. Al Alburquerque got Shane Victorino swinging, then surrendered a single to Dustin Pedroia to load the bases. Leyland yanked a reliever after allowing a baserunner for the third straight time, calling in closer Joaquin Benoit.
And then David Ortiz happened. Dear God, did he ever happen.
Perhaps the most indelible image of this entire season will be Torii Hunter jumping for Ortiz’s ball, missing it as it carried into the bullpen for a game-tying grand slam, and flipping over the wall with shocking suddenness, disappearing even faster than Ortiz’s homer had. Detroit fans, and maybe all baseball fans, have cause to regret the missed play. One more foot, and Hunter could have made the greatest catch in the history of baseball.
Yes, that includes the minor-league guy who ran through a wall (and didn’t hold the ball). You thought you’d see that replay forever? You could never have had a baseball highlight reel again without the Hunter catch. That would have been worth the bloody head Torii got from his hard spill, and more. Instead, we have David Ortiz’s latest installment in his running argument with Carlos Beltran over who is the greatest postseason clutch hitter ever. And the clip will probably still make all the highlight reels. Except in Detroit, and certain sections of the Bronx.
Detroit got mowed down by Koji Uehara in the ninth, and Boston went up to face Rick Porcello. Leyland did not keep his closer in after two batters of work with the score tied in the ninth. Maybe that’s something you just cannot do after a grand slam, or maybe Leyland was having Jose Valverde flashbacks. We may learn which in future games, if Leyland exhibits any further lack of confidence in Benoit.
For this night, his lack of confidence was misplaced: Porcello could not get one out. Jonny Gomes’ hit deep into the hole tempted shortstop Jose Iglesias to try too much, and his wild throw to first gave Gomes second base. Prince Fielder then went to the edge of the stands chasing Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s foul ball, but lost it off the side of his glove. Replays showed no obvious interference: he just missed it. It really wouldn’t have mattered. Porcello uncorked a wild pitch to move Gomes to third, then Saltalamacchia drove one through the brought-in Iglesias to send Fenway Park into orbit.
In an inning and a half, we went from a series being totally dominated by Detroit’s pitching to a tied-up affair, with all the momentum, if that concept matters a whit, being on Boston’s side. We can probably use the day off to catch our breath, at least for this series. The Cardinals and Dodgers, though, will be filling the gap. We’ll see whether Carlos Beltran has an answer to what Big Papi did.