In what has been a season full of memorable late-inning victories at Fenway Park, the Red Sox saved the best for when they needed it the most in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series Sunday night.
Trailing by four runs against the Detroit Tigers, the Sox tied the game on a grand slam by David Ortiz in the eighth inning then won it, 6-5, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to drive in Jonny Gomes in the ninth.
The remarkable victory had the players chasing Saltalamacchia across the outfield and the sellout crowd of 38,029 chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox!” as they left Fenway.
The Sox now head for Detroit for Game 3 Tuesday afternoon.
“When you back us into a wall, you either do two things: cave or fight. We’re gonna fight,” Dustin Pedroia said.
That wall was hard to get over. The Sox had scored one run through the 16 innings in the series, going 3 for 51 at the plate with 30 strikeouts. Detroit starter Max Scherzer allowed one run on two hits over seven innings and struck out 13.
But Scherzer left the game after 108 pitches and the Red Sox had a break.
“You haven’t seen a team shutting us down for 14, 15 straight innings like they have the last couple of days,” Ortiz said. “But in the postseason it can work both ways for you.”
Will Middlebrooks doubled to left field off Jose Veras to start the rally. Then Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk off Drew Smyly.
Al Albuquerque was next out of the Detroit bullpen. He struck out Shane Victorino for the second out, but Pedroia singled to right. Third base coach Brian Butterfield held Middlebrooks, wanting to make sure Ortiz got his chance.
“That was huge because in my mind I was scoring,” Middlebrooks said. “I didn’t see the ball but Butter had it all the way.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland made another pitching change before Ortiz came up, bringing in righthanded closer Joaquin Benoit.
Detroit had added lefthander Phil Coke to its roster for the series and Ortiz was 2 for 18 against him. But the choice was Benoit.
“Coke hadn’t pitched in a big game in quite a while,” Leyland said. “Benoit is our guy against the lefties.”
Ortiz swung at the first pitch, a changeup away, and was strong enough to pull it into the Red Sox bullpen in right field for his first career postseason grand slam and the fourth in Red Sox history.
Right fielder Torii Hunter tumbled over the wall trying to make a catch as Boston police officer Steve Horgan raised his arms in joy. Bullpen catcher Mani Martinez, who was warming up Koji Uehara, casually turned and caught the ball.
It was bedlam at Fenway and the crowd kept cheering until Ortiz emerged from the dugout and tipped his helmet to them.
“My idea wasn’t to go out and hit a grand slam,” Ortiz said. “If I was telling you about thinking about hitting a grand slam, I’d be lying to you now.”
It was the 15th postseason home run for Ortiz. It was the first Sox postseason slam since J.D. Drew against Cleveland in Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS.
“I guess David really is the most clutch hitter we’ve ever had,” Sox owner John Henry said while standing in the clubhouse afterward. “Wow.”
There was still a game to win. After Uehara retired the Tigers in order, Gomes was again the catalyst.
He reached on an infield single off Rick Porcello and took second on a throwing error by shortstop Jose Iglesias, the former Sox player known for his defensive skills.
“No is not an option for this team,” Gomes said. “Once I got on second, I was going to do anything I could to score.”
Gomes advanced on a wild pitch and scored when Saltalamacchia singled to left field.
“I felt good,” Saltalamacchia said. “Trying to hit the ball up the middle and take your chance.”
It was the 12th walkoff win of the season for the Red Sox.
“We’re going to play to the final out,” manager John Farrell said. “David so many times has come up big, whether it’s the regular season, postseason. None bigger than tonight.”
Scherzer struck out 10 of the first 18 batters he faced. Trailing, 5-0, the Sox finally got a hit with two outs in the sixth inning when Victorino singled to left field with one out. Pedroia followed with an RBI double off the wall in left.
Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz allowed five runs on eight hits over 5⅔ innings.
Miguel Cabrera started the sixth inning with a home run to left field. Prince Fielder followed with a double high off the wall in left. Victor Martinez’s double to the gap in right scored Fielder.
Buchholz stayed in the game to face Alex Avila and when he left a fastball up it was driven into the bleachers in right field. Avila’s third career postseason home run gave the Tigers a 5-0 lead.
Farrell stayed with Buchholz even after the long home run. Not until Infante singled did he bring in rookie reliever Brandon Workman.
The five runs were the most Buchholz allowed in a start this season. In two postseason starts he has given up eight earned runs on 15 hits (three home runs) and five walks over 11⅔ innings.
“We needed something to happen,” Middlebrooks said. “Getting David to the plate in the eighth inning was huge. I grew up watching the guy come through in moments like that.”
When Pedroia singled to load the bases, he turned and screamed at Ortiz while clapping his hands in rapid-fire fashion.
Pedroia couldn’t remember what he yelled. All he wanted was to see Ortiz get one more chance.
“I’ve seen him do some pretty cool things. But that’s pretty special,” Pedroia said.