Boston — The Tigers ran into severe turbulence long before their flight home Sunday night
In a stunning American League Championship Series reversal, what looked like a comfortable Game 2 victory in the making for the Tigers turned into a devastating 6-5 walk-off loss to the Boston Red Sox.
The Boston bats that had been slumbering for the better part of two games woke up in time to tie the series.
The Tigers’ pitching that had been so solid suddenly wasn’t.
And, just like that, after not having a hit until the sixth inning off Max Scherzer, the Red Sox not only had tied it on David Ortiz’s two-out grand slam off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth — but had won it on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s single off Rick Porcello in the ninth.
On Saltalamacchia’s hit, Jonny Gomes scored after leading off the inning with a single. Gomes took second on a throwing error by shortstop Jose Iglesias, and third on Porcello’s wild pitch — ugly ingredients if ever there were any.
With no outs, the Tigers obviously needed a miracle escape. But they didn’t come close to getting one.
There were questions to ask, of course, after the loss — such as why was Benoit in the game to pitch to Ortiz instead of left-hander Phil Coke, after Drew Smyly already had pitched?
“Coke hadn’t pitched in a big game for quite a while,” manager Jim Leyland said. “Benoit is our guy against lefties. We felt he gave us the best chance to get the out.”
Was Ortiz surprised he was facing a right-hander instead of a lefty.
“What can I tell you?” he said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. There’s a reason Leyland did what he did.”
Sometimes reasons work. This time, they didn’t.
Ortiz picked on the first pitch from Benoit and drove it on a line to right. Because the ball had a low trajectory, Torii Hunter raced back to the wall, and even over it, in a mad dash to catch it. But all he got for his efforts was the frustration of coming close, followed by a spectacular disappearance from view — from which he emerged unhurt.
“I saw it on video,” said Ortiz, “and the reason he didn’t catch it is because the ball took like a left turn when he was going right.”
The pitch that Ortiz hit out was a change-up — one that the Red Sox slugger called “pretty much hittable.”
“I knew they weren’t going to let me beat them on a fastball,” he said.
Until then, the game had belonged to the Tigers — what with Scherzer being brilliant again, and the Tigers expanding a 1-0 lead to 5-0 in the sixth with the help of two home runs off starter Clay Buchholz: Miguel Cabrera’s solo, and a two-run shot from Alex Avila.
The Red Sox countered with their first hit and first run in the bottom of the sixth, Dustin Pedroia following Shane Victorino’s single with a double.
It still was 5-1 when the Sox loaded the bases against a trio of Tigers’ relievers in the eighth.
The game was about to take on a brand new look.
“Tonight was almost a tale of two different games inside one,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Their pitching basically dominated us, but (the first run) was little bit of life injected into us.”
Followed by more than a little bit.
“I felt something good was going to happen,” Saltalamacchia said about Ortiz’s at-bat. “I think everyone knew something good was going to happen.”
Of his own game-winning at-bat — after getting a second chance at the plate when Prince Fielder couldn’t haul down his foul ball next to the stands?
“That was a big turning point,” Saltalamacchia said. “If you watch the replay, I was fist-pumping when he dropped it.”
Then he singled — and the game was over.
Joy for the Red Sox in the aftermath, of course.
Bumpy emotions for the Tigers as they headed for the plane.