The thought ran through Torii Hunter’s mind the same way it did everyone else’s.
The bases were loaded, the once-comfortable 5-1 lead the Tigers had been sitting on felt like a bed of nails, and David Ortiz was coming to the plate.
“You just don’t want David Ortiz to beat you,” Hunter said. “Everybody in the whole world knows that this dude can beat you.”
He knows Ortiz as well as anyone, as a player and a person. Hours before the Tigers faced the Red Sox in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday night, he was gushing over Ortiz.
“I’ve seen him grow,” Hunter said. “I’ve seen him in hard times, with family issues. I was there. We’re like brothers. I love him. We’re enemies, but I love him to death, I’d do anything for him.”
His affinity for Ortiz didn’t change the severity of the situation. The task fell on Joaquin Benoit to get Ortiz out and get the Tigers out of a jam.
With two outs in the eighth inning, Benoit fed Ortiz a first-pitch changeup, Ortiz sent it howling toward the bullpen.
Off the bat, Hunter thought he could chase it down — no matter how far it sailed.
For a second, he lost track of the ball in the Fenway lights.
By the time he picked it up again and made the adjustment, he said, “I was too close to the wall.”
At that point, there was no stopping his momentum.
He made a leap for the ball, cartwheeling over the wall and into the Red Sox bullpen.
As his legs splayed in the air, the arms of Boston Police officer Steve Horgan sprung up in celebration.
Ortiz’s grand slam propelled the Red Sox to a 6-5 win that seemed to give them new life after struggling to solve the Tigers pitching staff.
Meanwhile, Hunter was sprawled out after giving up his body trying to make a play to save the game.
“My hip, it hit the top of the wall,” Hunter said. “When I went up, I hit the top of the wall and it flipped me and it kind of just bruised it a little bit, but I mean, this is the postseason. I’ll die on the field for this. So you’re not going to take me off this field.”
Trainers immediately ran out to check on him.
“I just lost my breath and I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “Shoulder, neck, head, everything. At the time your adrenaline’s flowing, you just don’t really care about that. I just couldn’t breathe.”
At that point, with the Sox usurping momentum, he wasn’t worried about his well-being.
“It doesn’t matter,” Hunter said. “I was trying my best to just stop that ball from going over the fence. I’ll sacrifice my body if I have to. I’ve done that my whole career, wherever, it just didn’t work out.”
What was hard to swallow was how predictable it all was. Even though no player had ever hit a grand slam to tie a postseason game in the eighth or later, when Ortiz stepped to the plate, Hunter said, he could see the script unfolding before his eyes.
“It’s obvious,” he said. “I’m pissed off. The one guy you don’t want to beat you and he beat us. One of the best hitters in postseason history and this guy, he hits the ball out of the park and it ties the game up and they end up coming back and winning the game. I’m pissed. That’s just the way it goes.
“We’re all pissed. Everybody on this team is pissed off that that happened.”
The Tigers were forced to watch Max Scherzer’s seven-inning, one-run, two-hit, 13-strikeout performance go up in smoke and after seemingly having the series firmly in their clutches they had to settle for a split as the series swings to Detroit.
“We’re professionals,” Hunter said. “You’ve got to have amnesia. If you don’t have amnesia, we wouldn’t be here in the major leagues. We’ve always got tomorrow. It stings for today, but tomorrow and Tuesday will be a totally different game.”
Both the Tigers and Hunter will have to lick their wounds on the way back.
“That’s all you can do is keep fighting, keep battling,” he said. “I’ll put some ice on it or some Robitussin or something later.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.