As the faithful converged on Fenway Park Sunday night, they zigzagged through the pregame carnival on Yawkey Way, past a tall man on stilts, a quick-fingered magician, a rock ‘n’ roll band banging out “Louie, Louie,’’ and a billboard identifying the Red Sox beards.
The sign alerted the throngs that David Ortiz’s facial bristle is called “The Tease,’’ although there was no tease in Ortiz by the eighth inning when he took Joaquin Benoit deep for one of the greatest grand slams in Sox postseason history.
The billboard identified Mike Napoli’s look as “The Siesta.’’
And Clay Buchholz’s? His facial art is dubbed “The Buck,’’ as in the buck stops with Buchholz.
After all, Buchholz had started five games this year after a Sox loss and went 5-0. And when he wasn’t sitting out much of the season with a neck strain, he was spectacular, going 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA.
He was a stopper. But when the Sox most needed Buchholz, he came undone in a calamitous four-run sixth inning before Ortiz’s wondrous tying blast led to the Sox stunning the Motown Nine with a walkoff 6-5 victory that evened the American League Championship Series at one game apiece.
Buchholz was collecting himself in the Sox dugout when Ortiz went deep, easing the pain of the stopper’s misfortune.
“I was sitting in here kind of speechless at the time,’’ Buchholz recalled of his reaction to Mr. Clutch’s shot into the Sox pen. “That’s where we are right now, because of moments like that.’’
Things went south for Buchholz as he tried to keep pace with Detroit’s likely Cy Young Award winner, Max Scherzer. With Scherzer mowing down Sox batters, no-hitting them through the first five innings, Buchholz lost his control in the sixth, morphing from a stopper to just another guy with a glistening mullet, a scraggly beard, and a chain around his neck that seemed to grow tighter with every pitch.
Scherzer’s dominance was part of the problem. The Sox trailed, 1-0, at the time.
“It’s tough going out there already being down one run and knowing the guy is throwing a no-hitter against you,’’ Buchholz said. “Anything you do is magnified by a really big area. You can’t get worried about what the other guy is going. You’ve got to worry about what you’re doing. I just let it get away from me a little bit.’’
The irony was that for five innings Buchholz had looked like the Buchholz of national renown.
“That’s as good as I’ve felt, even at the beginning of the season,’’ he said. “I felt good with the command of all the pitches I was throwing.’’
Other than surrendering a lone run in the second inning on three consecutive hits — a double by Victor Martinez and singles by Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila — he kept the Sox in contention with his dangerous array of fastballs, changeups, and breaking balls.
Buchholz encountered only one other threat before disaster struck. That hazard unfolded in the fourth when he grazed Martinez’s right triceps with a slider after striking out Detroit’s biggest guns, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Aggravating matters, Buchholz threw a wild pitch that sent Martinez to second, and Stephen Drew misplayed a routine grounder by Peralta. But he escaped further damage by getting Avila to fly out.
Then he unraveled. With one out in the sixth, Cabrera muscled a high changeup over the Monster. Fielder followed with a double off the wall, setting up Martinez’s run-scoring double, which gave Detroit a 3-0 advantage.
A batter later, Buchholz left a fastball over the plate to Avila, who sent it over the Tigers pen to make it 5-0, foreshadowing Buchholz’s imminent departure.
“My execution wasn’t nearly as sharp’’ in the sixth, Buchholz said. “I felt like I was sort of throwing through my delivery rather than staying in it, and the pitches ended up being in the middle and up over the plate, and you can’t leave pitches up to a team like this because they are going to make you pay for it, and that’s what they did.’’
His catcher, Jarrod Saltalamachia, said, “I don’ think Clay had his best stuff, obviously, [in the sixth]. They’re an aggressive hitting team, and they didn’t make any mistakes. I think he was just starting to get a little tired and leaving [his pitches] up a bit.’’
But the Sox did what the Sox have done repeatedly this year. They came back yet again, freeing Buchholz of his misery.
“This really gives us a little momentum, I think,’’ he said. “Having the series tied, 1-1, instead of going to Detroit down, 0-2, it’s a big deal.’’Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.