BOSTON — When Shane Victorino comes to the plate, the speakers at Fenway Park blast Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” even when that clearly isn’t the case. A packed house sang along Saturday night in the seventh inning of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, but who could have believed it? The Boston Red Sox trailed, Victorino looked helpless at the plate, chances had already come and gone, and a seventh game loomed.
Here, then, came Detroit Tigers reliever Jose Veras, attacking Victorino, and why not? He was, to that point, 2 for 23 in the ALCS. Veras threw two curveballs for two strikes. Just one more, and . . .
Victorino turned on that last one, and the Red Sox are in the World Series because of it. The shot settled just over the Green Monster in left, the grand slam that gave Boston a 5-2 victory over the Tigers, whose starting rotation pitched so superbly but whose bullpen again did them in. The Sox took the series, four games to two, and will open the World Series Wednesday night at Fenway Park, which by then may have recovered from the delirium Victorino provided.
“My emotions are getting me,” Victorino said on the field afterward, as his teammates hugged all around him. “A special moment. Something I will never forget. It’s the ALCS. We have another task ahead of us. But this team all year long? It’s a special group of guys.”
And it was, in fact, a special series, tense at almost every turn. Victorino’s shot provided Boston with its only victory that wasn’t by one run. Each team had a 1-0 victory. Until Victorino’s game-changer, Saturday night was a one-run affair throughout.
“This series had a little bit of everything — dramatic comeback wins, dominant starting pitching, particularly on their part,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better series. It tested everything we had, pushed us to the limit.”
And it pushed the Tigers, who were looking for their second pennant in a row, into the offseason, where they will have much to consider. Their $214 million slugging first baseman, Prince Fielder, finished a miserable series with an 0-for-3 night that left him with four singles in 22 ALCS at-bats, and without an RBI for the entire postseason. Their Triple Crown winner and MVP from a year ago, Miguel Cabrera, was a fraction of his full self, ripping a single and scoring a run Saturday, but ultimately reduced by his bad groin.
And the Tigers’ biggest preseason question — the bullpen — simply couldn’t keep up with the relievers from the Red Sox. When Farrell turned to his pen to take over for fading right-hander Clay Buchholz in the sixth, he could do so with confidence. Yes, Franklin Morales’s unforgivable outing at that point — a four-pitch walk to the flailing Fielder, then a rocket of a single to Victor Martinez that put Detroit up 2-1 – was a stain for the Boston bullpen.
But beyond that, Brandon Workman, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara — who saved three Boston wins and won the other, earning most valuable player honors — were their splendid selves. Over the final four innings, that group combined to allow three hits, extending a remarkable postseason in which Red Sox relievers have now given up one run in 21 innings, a 0.43 ERA.
“Unlike anything I’ve ever been through,” Breslow said.
The Tigers’ relievers can’t say the same, because they were involved in the two swings that changed the series — David Ortiz’s game-tying grand slam off closer Joaquin Benoit that led to a walk-off win in Game 2, and Victorino’s unlikely grand slam off Veras that won Game 6. That undid all the good work by Detroit’s rotation, which dominated Boston at times and posted a 2.06 ERA.
“Normally, if you pitch the way we did in this series,” Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said, “you probably think that we had won.”
The Tigers will have other places to find fault, too. When they took that lead against Morales — who gave up runs charged to Buchholz, who had handed over a 1-0 advantage — they might have tacked on more runs if not for a bizarre double play. Follow this: Jhonny Peralta hit a grounder to Dustin Pedroia at second, and Pedroia turned to home – where he wanted to nail a wandering Fielder. Martinez essentially ran into Pedroia’s tag, and with one out recorded, Pedroia gunned to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who chased the 275-pound Fielder back to third. Carl Lewis vs. Ben Johnson this was not, and Saltalamacchia tagged the lunging Fielder, who landed with a flop, for a strange double play.
When Workman got out of that frame without further damage, Detroit starter Max Scherzer responded by putting men on second and third with one out, then striking out Mike Napoli and getting Saltalamacchia to pop up. When he did, Scherzer pumped his fist and yelled into the Fenway air, which had quickly become quiet.
At that point, it seemed that might have been the night’s signature moment. But in the seventh, Jonny Gomes led off with a blistering double off the massive green wall that missed tying the game by inches — Boston’s second narrow miss of a homer, following Pedroia’s barely-foul blast in the third. Scherzer then struck out shortstop Stephen Drew, but rookie Xander Bogearts somehow laid off a borderline 3-2 change-up.
“It was a great pitch,” said Bogaerts, who doubled and scored Boston’s first run. “But it was a ball.”
Ball four, in fact. Scherzer came out, and the Sox were in business.
To get to Victorino, though, Boston benefitted from some good fortune. Leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury grounded one up the middle off lefty Drew Smyly, and shortstop Jose Iglesias — who has a future in this game because of his glove — booted it. Double play? Nope. Bases loaded, and here came Veras.
And that left it to Victorino, in his first year in Boston, “a big-money player,” in Farrell’s estimation. He had a grand slam in the playoffs before, back when he was with the Phillies. But he came into this at-bat with a groundout, a badly popped up bunt, and a hit by pitch on the night. He heard, too, the crowd singing.
“Everything’s gonna be all right?” he said afterward. “This is the kind of moment you live for. This is the one thing I came here to do.”
And when this one cleared the Monster, he leapt as he rounded first base, fist to the sky. Each Red Sox who crossed the plate did so by pouncing on it, and when Victorino jumped into Ortiz’s waiting arms, every little thing was indeed all right in Boston, thank you, because with an improbable swing of the bat, the Red Sox are back in the World Series.