Ten strikeouts swinging. Three strikeouts looking. Six strikeouts on sliders. Four strikeouts on fastballs. Three strikeouts on changeups.
Max Scherzer was brilliant. He allowed just two hits over seven innings and walked off he mound with a 5-1 lead. His team’s win expectancy stood at 96 percent.
It wasn’t enough. The resilient Red Sox rallied to beat the Tigers 6-5 and even the ALCS at one game apiece. As Boston manager John Farrell put it, “Tonight was almost a tale of two different games inside one.”
The last two innings were a tale of woe for the Tigers bullpen. Detroit manager Jim Leyland used four relievers in the eighth, and each was charged with a run. A two-out grand slam by David Ortiz, off Joaquin Benoit, tied the game. A fifth reliever, Rick Porcello, came on for the ninth and failed to record an out. He took the loss after Jarrod Saltalamacchia lined a walk-off single.
The Ortiz home run overshadowed Scherzer’s outing, which was every bit as good as Anibal Sanchez’s Game One gem. The presumptive American League Cy Young award winner took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and mesmerized Boston bats throughout.
He set the tone early. The first batter of the game, Jacoby Ellsbury, was retired on a full-count changeup. From that point on, Red Sox batters had no idea what Scherzer would throw on any given count. His first nine outs were recorded on four fastballs, three changeups and two sliders.
As Leyland said after the game, “When they’re looking for a fastball, you try to throw something else. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. He was terrific. It’s a shame to let that one get away, but that’s baseball.”
Was it ever. It may have been a hard game for Tigers fans to stomach, but for baseball purists, it was pure theater. That made it an ideal stage for Ortiz, whose proclivity for big hits in the postseason has become legendary.
“It was a changeup, just a little up, and he put a good swing on it,” explained Tigers catcher Alex Avila. “He just got it out. To be honest, when he initially hit it, I didn’t think it had enough. It just kept going. Torii [Hunter] got pretty close to it. I wasn’t sure, but then the crowd started cheering, so I knew it was gone,”
Lefthander Phil Coke — against whom Ortiz is 2 for 18 — was warming up in the bullpen and had a great vantage point.
“Torii looked like he had a bead on it,” said Coke. “I looked to see where the wall was, where he was, and where the ball was. When Torii jumped up, I thought he had it. He missed it by just that much.
“When he flipped over that wall, I was kind of freaked out. I was hoping he was OK. Everybody started waving the trainer out, so I was hoping he didn’t smack his head on the back side of that wall, because there are metal beams and concrete. It was quite an interesting moment, and it obviously didn’t end up going our way.”
Fortunately, Hunter was OK. He was also, in his own words, “pissed off” with the result of the game
The mood in the Red Sox clubhouse was markedly different. They had just scripted a storybook ending, and Ortiz was the man of the hour.
“I’m pretty sure I have a new favorite player,” said first baseman Mike Carp. “He’s been winning my heart over time after time this year. He’s been doing this for a long time, so it’s no new thing to him, but to see him step up and do it again tonight was unbelievable.”
“We’re living out what you make up in you back yard,” added pitcher Andrew Miller. “It’s everyone’s childhood dream where you hit the game-winning home run. Or maybe you’re getting the big base hit to bring up David Ortiz to hit that home run. You dream about doing those things, and these guys are actually doing them.”
A pair of coaches may have said it best:
“We were down and out — we were in a classic UFC hold and ready to tap out — and we figured out a way with one swing of the bat,” said Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo.
“Until you actually close it out, the ballgame is never really over” said Tigers third base coach Tom Brookens. “I know from playing here for a lot of years that runs can come really quick at Fenway Park, and Ortiz has had a lot of big hits for them. He had another one tonight, maybe one of his biggest. We‘ll just have to come back and win one on [Tuesday] night.”
For that to happen, they’ll need Justin Verlander to put together a Scherzer-like performance, and they’ll need their beleaguered bullpen to not implode. They may also want to pitch around Ortiz with the game on the line. They didn’t last night, and paid the price.