Will Middlebrooks, who started it all in the eighth inning, still had trouble processing it all, understanding exactly what happened, as he stood by his locker in the Red Sox clubhouse.
“I’ll have to look at the video to see how high I jumped,’’ said the young third baseman, still pondering the improbable, the fantastic Boston comeback in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. “I felt like a little kid again.’’
The tape, the one that will play over and over and over like the Carlton Fisk homer in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, will show the “Natural’’-like David Ortiz grand slam in the eighth inning.
It will show Ortiz’s screaming shot off Joaquin Benoit into the Sox bullpen, just beyond the reach of Torii Hunter’s extended glove. It will show Middlebrooks, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia circling the bases ahead of Big Papi, pulling the Sox even, 5-5, with the Tigers.
And it will show Red Sox Nation, those of the 38,029 who remained in the ballyard, taking crazy to a new level, on a night when they spent more than three hours with shoulders slumped and faces full of despair.
But it changed with Oritz’s one sweep of the bat, off of Benoit’s first pitch, after Middlebrooks started the rally with a one-out double. Ellsbury followed with a walk, and Pedroia loaded the bases with his sharp, two-out single to right.
“I am pretty speechless right now,’’ said Middlebrooks, who set the table with his shot to left, off reliever Jose Veras. “I mean, to get that double . . . and then all that happened after it, I’ve kinda forgotten what I did to be honest.
“Really, it’s all like a movie.’’
A piece of Fenway ficition fiction. On a cool autumn night, with the season setting faster than an October afternoon sun, the Sox got it done. Ellsbury was next after Middlebrooks, and the sharp-eyed center fielder drew a walk off of the next Tigers reliever, lefthander Drew Smyly. The Sox still trailed, 5-1, but they had two men on.
“That’s what we’re looking to do,’’ noted Pedroia. “Just get on and pass the baton down to the next guy. That’s it, trust your teammate.’’
Shane Victorino followed, facing the third pitcher of the inning, Al Alburquerque, and the Sox right fielder fanned, the 14th time a Sox hitter struck out (for a total 31 in two days at this point). Two down, and the stick was in Pedroia’s hands. He lashed a single to right, but it was so sharp that third base coach Brian Butterfield had no choice but to call Middlebrooks to a halt.
Bases loaded for Ortiz. The legendary Sox DH had been to the plate three other times on the night, fanning twice and walking once. On a night when Sox hitters were all but hypnotized and hog-tied by Detroit starter Max Scherzer, Ortiz had also been neutralized. But not this time.
The burly Benoit, desperate to throw strikes, put his first pitch over the heart of the plate and Ortiz swatted it on a screaming line into the Sox bullpen. Hunter raced over, nearly snatched it, then slammed belt high into the top of the Sox bullpen and fell into the corral headfirst.
Sox bullpen catcher Mani Martinez caught it in flight while a Boston cop, assigned to bullpen duty, put his own signature to the moment, raising both arms high as if to signal a touchdown. Two Boston cops assigned to Fenway, laughing about the moment as they left the park, opted not to give up the name of their brother cop.
“Like a movie,’’ repeated Middlebrooks. “The coolest thing I’ ve ever been a part of in my life. It gave me chills.’’
Noting that Butterfield made the right call to hold him at third on Pedroia’s single to right, Middlebrooks added, “We had David coming up — it was perfectly set up for him. We had different guys chipping it, and that’s what this team is about, just grinding it out.’’
From the crack of the bat, said Middlebrooks, he knew Ortiz’s blast had a shot of making it out. “As frustrated as our offense was all night,’’ added Victorino, “we ultimately did it. But I’ll never take credit from [Detroit’s pitchers], they’ve been tough these two games.’’
As dramatic as the eighth innng was, the ninth was swift and and merciless. Jonny Gomes opened with an infield single, moved to second on Jose Iglesias’s throwing error, then to third on a wild pitch. Jarrod Saltalamacchia ended it on a 3-and-1 pitch lined to left.
“Storybook. Like a movie,’’ said the bemused Middlebrooks, again focusing on Oritz’s emphatic thunderclap in the eighth. “A first-pitch splitter. Not a fastball, a splitter. Down and away and he hits it 400 feet. That’s just stupid, right? It does not make sense. But that’s David for you. It’s something I’ll watch on TV for years.’’