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Closing Time: Red Sox conclude shocking comeback in 6-5 walk-off win over Tigers to tie ALCS

10.13.13 at 11:47 pm ET
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Before Game 2, Jonny Gomes spoke — as he often has of late — about the unexpected trajectory of the Red Sox season, about the team’s ability to withstand apparent deficiencies in order to assert itself as one of the best teams in baseball.

“To start the season I think the article was written that the offense has taken a big hit, that [David Ortiz] is not in the lineup and it never got printed,” said Gomes. “I think Clay Buchholz going down, starting pitching isn’t the same since Clay went down. That article wasn’t written.  …  I think it says a lot about how this team was built in the offseason, how deep it was built, how deep this organization is — and the will inside this clubhouse to pick each other up, to hide injuries, to hide slumps.”

Yet the latest demonstration of that characteristic fighting spirit may have been the most mind-boggling one of the year by the Red Sox.

Through six innings, the Sox seemed destined to endure their second straight contest in which they were utterly dominated by Tigers pitching. After a 1-0 loss to Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers in Game 1 of the best-of-seven ALCS in which the Sox were held hitless through 8 1/3 innings, Boston was no-hit for 5 2/3 frames by Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer. Though Shane Victorino (two-out hit in the sixth) and Dustin Pedroia (RBI double to follow that) ended visions of a no-hitter or shutout, on a night when Scherzer racked up 13 punchouts in seven innings of work and left with a 5-1 advantage, the Sox seemed destined to leave Fenway Park with a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven ALCS.

But improbably, the Sox did not yield. Instead, once the Tigers went to their bullpen for the eighth, the Sox kickstarted a head-spinning rally (in slow-motion, thanks to the many pitching changes made by the Tigers) to tie the game and position themselves for an eventual 6-5 walk off victory in the ninth.

It started innocently enough. A one-out double by Will Middlebrooks against reliever Jose Veras gave the Sox a runner in scoring position. Tigers skipper Jim Leyland made the move to left-hander Drew Smyly for Jacoby Ellsbury, but the southpaw walked the Sox leadoff hitter. With one out and two on, Leyland again went to the ‘pen, this time for right-hander Al Alburquerque, who punched out Victorino for the second out before permitting a single to right by Pedroia that loaded the bases.

That, in turn, brought David Ortiz to the plate, representing the tying run. Leyland went to closer Joaquin Benoit. Ortiz was ready. The Sox slugger jumped on a first-pitch changeup and sent a low-flying rocket to right that sailed into the Red Sox bullpen, just out of the reach of right fielder Torii Hunter, who crashed headlong after his close friend’s 15th career postseason homer, a game-tying grand slam that electrified what had been a funereal Fenway Park.

The tide had turned. Koji Uehara blitzed through a perfect ninth, and in the bottom of the frame, Gomes led off with an infield single, advanced to second on a throwing error by former Sox teammate Jose Iglesias, proceeded to third on a wild pitch by reliever Rick Porcello and scored when Jarrod Saltalamacchia lined a single past Iglesias to left for the 12th postseason walk off victory in Sox history.

Once again, the story that had been written would never see light of day. Gomes and the Red Sox returned from the precipice of a potential 2-0 series deficit to knot the ALCS, 1-1. An ALCS that looked like a fait accompli is now very much an open book.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— Ortiz’s grand slam was just the fourth in Red Sox postseason history, and the first since J.D. Drew clubbed an ALCS grand slam in 2007.

— Pedroia played a huge role in the Sox victory, both defensively and in both Sox rallies, first with a run-scoring double in the sixth and then with a key two-out single to flood the bases for Ortiz in the eighth.

— The Red Sox continued to make  defensive plays in an effort to give themselves a shot even in the absence of any semblance of offense in the early innings. In the second inning, after Buchholz allowed a run on three straight hits, Stephen Drew knocked down an Omar Infante bullet to start a 6-4-3 double play. He would later make an excellent running catch in shallow left-center for the second time in as many days. And Pedroia displayed some kind of sorcery in making a diving stop of a grounder, squeezing it into the tip of his glove and making an off balance throw from his knees to clip Austin Jackson. Drew did later boot a routine two-out grounder for an error in the fourth, but Buchholz escaped unscathed.

— Victorino broke up the no-hitter, a somewhat startling accomplishment given that he was batting right-handed against a pitcher in Scherzer who has been absolutely devastating to right-handed hitters. Indeed, Victorino proved the Sox’ foremost offensive contributor, not only getting a hit but also getting hit by a pitch. The first-inning HBP, in fact, represented something of an historic bruising, as Victorino became the first player ever to get hit by pitches five times in a single postseason.

 WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

— With Scherzer dominating, Buchholz appeared to have no margin for error. He erred.

Pitching against the second straight Tigers starter to carry a no-hitter into at least the sixth inning, Buchholz held Detroit in check through the first five innings in which he allowed just one run on three consecutive hits (all rockets) in the top of the second. But while he then blitzed through the next three frames, his outing unraveled completely in the sixth, at a time when the Sox were still just one swing from getting back into the contest.

With one out in the sixth, Buchholz left a hanging changeup — complete with “hit me” sign — up in the zone to Miguel Cabrera, who launched the offering off the base of the light tower down the left field line to put the Tigers up, 2-0. While that lead felt immense considering the way that Scherzer was pitching, the Tigers continued to add on, with back-to-back doubles by Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez plating another run, and then a two-run launch to right by Alex Avila that seemed like it would put the game away at 5-0.

In 17 prior starts in 2013, Buchholz allowed no more than four runs — the same number he yielded in the sixth inning of Game 2. His five-run yield represented a season-high, but also obscured what had been excellent work through the first five frames, in which he punched out six, walked none and sailed through 15 outs in just 62 pitches.

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