Closing Time: Shane Victorino, Red Sox slam way past Tigers to World Series
|10.20.13 at 12:01 am ET|
All year, the Red Sox showed an ability to ignore adversity, to take their opponents’ best punch and refuse to get knocked out. A strong case can be made that no one endured more bruises along the way than Shane Victorino, the oft-injured right fielder whose three-year deal to come to Boston was widely declared the worse free agent signing of last offseason.
And so it seemed appropriate in many respects that Victorino was the player who, in improbable fashion, delivered the blow that punched the Red Sox’ ticket to the World Series, crushing a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning that turned a 2-1 deficit into a Game 6 Fenway festival, an eventual 5-2 victory that allowed the Sox to dispatch the Tigers and prepare to welcome the Cardinals to Fenway Park for the start of the World Series on Wednesday.
Victorino spent tedious years working to master the craft of switch-hitting, enduring mind-blowing struggles for full seasons of his minor-league career. The craft of learning to hit left-handed was one that did not come easily, but with time, it did come, to the point where he proved capable of making an impact from either side of the plate.
But an assortment of injuries rendered him unable to continue to bat from both sides of the plate down the stretch this year. For the first time in more than a decade, Victorino became a full-time right-handed hitter, his few dalliances in turning around to hit left-handed (including in Game 5 of the ALCS against Anibal Sanchez) ending in such futile fashion that he declared as the Sox prepared to head back to Boston after Game 5 that the experiment was done: He would bat exclusively from the right side, at least for the rest of the postseason.
The Tigers smelled blood. They attacked him with a succession of nasty breaking balls from right-handers, leaving him flailing.
But in the bottom of the seventh inning, Victorino stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out against right-handed reliever Jose Veras, Detroit clinging to a 2-1 lead. He immediately fell behind, 0-2, and Veras sniffed a punchout. But the reliever went to the well one time too many, leaving a curveball over the plate. Victorino unloaded, clearing the Green Monster for his record-tying second-career postseason grand slam to give the Red Sox a 5-2 advantage and inspiring bedlam at Fenway Park.
The Sox then raced through the final two innings — with Craig Breslow (perfect eighth) and incomparable closer Koji Uehara (scoreless ninth, two strikeouts — including the game-ender against Jose Iglesias) doing the honors to secure the franchise’s 13th American League pennant, and its third in the last 10 year. The team will now host the same Cardinals franchise (albeit with a completely altered roster) that it defeated in four games in the 2004 Fall Classic.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
— Welcome to the Future.
At 21, Xander Bogaerts is the youngest player in Red Sox history to start a postseason game. On Saturday, he was the single most dominant performer, drawing two walks, slamming a double and scoring a pair of runs against Max Scherzer.
As has been the case virtually every time he has stepped to the plate this postseason, he once again showed the ability to control the tempo of the game, negotiating a seven-pitch walk in his first plate appearance against Scherzer after falling behind, 0-2, and a six-pitch walk in the seventh to force Scherzer from the game. Bogaerts is the third player ever, at age 21 or younger, to negotiate five or more walks in a postseason, joining Edgar Renteria (8) and Andruw Jones (7) in the accomplishment. Four others have walked four times at that age: Miguel Cabrera, Stan Musial, Gregg Jeffries and Wayne Garrett.
But he is more than a player who is capable of drawing walks. In his second trip to the dish against Scherzer, he slammed a double high off the wall in left-center for his third double of the playoffs. He is the ninth player in postseason history with three or more extra-base hits at the age of 21 or younger. The others: Cabrera (6), Mickey Mantle (4), Jones (4), Renteria (3), Garrett (3), Joe DiMaggio (3), Bryce Harper (3), Jimmie Foxx (3).
In 11 plate appearances this postseason, Bogaerts is 3-for-6 with five walks and three doubles, good for a .500/.727/1.000 line.
— Brandon Workman cleaned up the runners-on-the-corners, no-outs mess made by fellow reliever Franklin Morales by getting a double-play groundout from Jhonny Peralta (in which Peralta hit a grounder that was picked by Dustin Pedroia, who tagged Victor Martinez running from first to second, then fired to the plate, permitting Jarrod Saltalamacchia to run down Prince Fielder who had strayed too far from third), and then punching out Alex Avila. Workman returned to the mound for the seventh, recording two more outs and allowing the Sox to keep the contest in check.
— Clay Buchholz was outstanding for five shutout innings before his speed bump against the first two batters of the sixth led to his early hook from Farrell, who was perhaps mindful that the right-hander had faltered in his third time through the order in his prior two postseason starts as well. But the right-hander allowed only four hits (all singles) and two walks in his five innings of work, punching out four.
— Jonny Gomes justified Farrell’s faith in starting him over Daniel Nava by slamming a double high off the Wall against Tigers starter Scherzer to open the bottom of the seventh, setting in motion the game-winning rally.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
— Left-hander Franklin Morales, asked to put out a two-on, no-out spark in the top of the sixth inning, instead inspired a full-blown conflagration by issuing a four-pitch walk to Prince Fielder and yielding a two-run single high off the wall to Victor Martinez. Morales has allowed five of the nine hitters he’s faced this postseason to reach — three on hits, two on walks.
— Stephen Drew went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, wrapping up an ALCS in which he went 1-for-20. However, he also continued to turn in key defensive plays, most notably a diving play to his left with runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the seventh to keep the Sox’ deficit at 2-1.
— Scherzer’s fifth punchout of the contest (which came against Mike Napoli in the bottom of the fourth inning) gave the Tigers rotation 52 strikeouts in the series, the most punchouts ever by a single starting staff in a postseason series. The previous record of 51 had been set by the 2001 Diamondbacks of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in a seven-game World Series against the Yankees.
— Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia both went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
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