Boston — He slammed a long home run over the bullpen and into the seats in right. He drilled an RBI single that got the Tigers their first run on a night when Max Scherzer pitched as if one run might be enough, as it was for the Tigers Saturday.
And he was inches from David Ortiz’s bat when it blasted into Joaquin Benoit’s first pitch in the eighth inning Sunday night, driving the ball on a line into the bullpen in right, good for a grand-slam homer that tied the score and set up the Red Sox’s 6-5 victory in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park.
“You know they’re gonna come at you,” Avila said, patiently, and in a low voice as he handled a flurry of postgame questions inside the Tigers clubhouse. “You’ve got to be able to slow it down and make good pitches.”
The Tigers, in the latter innings, didn’t. And that destroyed a magnificent effort Scherzer credited Avila for making possible with a catcher’s contributions.
“We were really in a rhythm,” Scherzer said, speaking of the pitch-calls and targets Avila had executed in his partnership with Scherzer, who struck out 13, and who allowed only two hits before leaving after seven innings.
Avila had also helped out on offense Sunday. Scoring runs has been the Tigers’ ongoing hassle since Miguel Cabrera’s sore groin chopped into his run-production and seemed to trigger a general Tigers offensive malaise.
But the Tigers had a better time of it Sunday. Cabrera, who had hit only one home run from Aug. 26 until Oct. 10, hit his second in three games Sunday when he drove a Clay Buchholz change-up high and far beyond the Green Monster in left field.
Avila followed in the same inning with a two-run shot — this a 400-foot-plus rocket into the right-field seats. It came two innings after he had ripped a RBI single up the middle against Buchholz for a 1-0 Tigers lead.
“It was up,” Avila said, speaking of Buchholz’s home-run pitch. “It stayed there and I hit it pretty good.”
There wasn’t much to discuss or to detail. About the homer. Or, about the Red Sox’s eighth-inning destruction.
Avila, though, handled every question, and they came in a steady stream from national media who needed, above all, to know what happened in the Red Sox’s grand, four-run eighth that turned a 5-1 Tigers lead into a 5-5 game.
The situation was not unprecedented. Leyland has been forced to go to his best-percentage situations when Detroit’s bullpen has been a sixth-month portrait of fragility. And opting for Benoit and a four-out save was the decision as Benoit trotted to the mound with two out and the bases loaded.
Ortiz presents universal problems. If you pitch him away, he loves to drive pitches off, or over, the 37-foot-high wall in left.
If you pitch him in, which is tempting when right field is distant and the October air tends to be heavy, Ortiz is still the brand of muscleman who can easily turn that inside pitch into a game-changing bomb.
And that is what he did to Benoit’s first pitch, an 86-mph change-up.
“Normally, his change-up goes down and away,” Avila said of Benoit’s serve. “That one stayed up a bit.
“Things can change quickly here.”
As they did Sunday night at Fenway. As they did at a place the Tigers, ideally, would love to think they have seen for the final time in 2013, and all because a home-field sweep would give them a World Series, minus any final business in Boston, as this best-of-seven series carries on.