The excruciating beat went on in game six of the American League Championship Series as the Red Sox and Tigers locked horns in another tense, low scoring – for quite some time no scoring – tug of war. In the end Detroit blinked as Clay Buchholz and the Sox bullpen kept Detroit hitters in check and Shane Victorino broke a wretched ALCS slump with a grand slam in the seventh to power the Sox to a 5-2 victory and a third trip to the World Series in the 2000s. I’m going to give you as much play-by-play as possible because the drama of the game deserved it.
Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz and Tigers starter Max Scherzer went head-to-head through five innings with Buchholz pitching in less high stress situations than his counterpart. Scherzer wasn’t as sharp and as a result got into more scrapes. Boston, however, squandered a golden two-on no out opportunity in the bottom of the third when Scherzer walked Xander Bogaerts and Jocoby Ellsbury back-to-back to open the frame but got Shane Victorino to pop out on a bunt attempt and induced Dustin Pedroia to ground into an inning ending double play after he’d missed a three-run homer by inches earlier in the at bat. Ugh!
Detroit returned the favor in the bottom of the fifth when Austin Jackson walked – Buchholz’ first walk of the game – after Omar Infante grounded out to start the inning but Jose Iglesias grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Boston finally broke through in the fifth when Xander Bogaerts doubled with two outs, a rocket shot off the Monster, and Jacoby Ellsbury drove him home for Boston’s first run. Fenway rocked as if it was another Papi grand slam. Boston had a slim lead and both starting pitchers were firing.
After a lead off walk in the sixth to Torii Hunter, Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves visited the mound, keeping close tabs on Buchholz’ 82-pitch count and signaling that he’d be on a short leash in game six. After Miguel Cabrera singled Buchholz got the hook and left-handed specialist Franklin Morales was called in to to pitch to Prince Fielder. Morales walked Fielder on four straight pitches to load the bases with none out; not what you bring your specialist in to do.
Victor Martinez rocketed a double off the wall and Detroit went up 2-1. Morales was mercifully removed but not soon enough, which is to say it would have been better if he’d never come in. Brandon Workman got a little luck and made some of his own when he induced Jhonny Peralta to hit a ground ball to Pedey who tagged out Martinez and then threw to home to catch Fielder in a rundown and get the double play. To be frank, Fielder’s blunder was incredibly dumb. He’s overweight and was way too far down the line. It killed what could have been a big inning for the Tigers.
The Sox were back in business in the bottom of the sixth when Victorino was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and Pedroia walked. David Ortiz flied out to left field to bring Boston’s best hitter in the ALCS, Mike Napoli, to the plate. Scherzer buried the second pitch to Napoli in the dirt. The ball squirted away not far from Alex Avila but with Ellsbury and Victorino aboard the theory that speed kills was proven. The runners advanced to third and second respectively. Scherzer, however, struck out Napoli to bring up Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who had already struck out twice previously. Salty popped out and Boston’s frustration continued.
Workman returned for the seventh and had an odyssey of an inning, narrowly averting another Detroit breakdown. Austin Jackson singled and then got picked off. Good news right? Not so fast. Iglesias singled off Workman’s glove, a play that would have been made by Pedey had Workman’s glove not slowed the ball enough to allow Iggy to reach safely. Workman then made a fielding error on a nubber by Hunter but got out of the inning when Stephen Drew made a amazing sliding stop on a Cabrera sure-thing single to end the inning. That’s why a guy batting .059 going into the game got the start.
Boston finally broke it open in the bottom of the seventh. Jonny Gomes doubled, striking a long fly ball just inches from the homer stripe off the Green Monster to open the frame. After Drew struck out Xander Bogaerts walked. Scherzer was done and reliever Drew Smyly was brought in to put a stop to the rally . Smyly did his job. Iglesias did not. Ellsbury hit a shot up the middle. Iggy was perfectly placed behind second base to field the ball. The ball nestled neatly in the pocket and then inexplicably popped out. Bases loaded. The fix was in.
Until the at bat that launched the Red Sox to the World Series, Shane Victorino was 2-23 in the ALCS. But here are some other killer stats. In the post season, Victorino had been up six times with the bases loaded and had four hits, 16 RBI and two, count ‘em, TWO grand slams. Oops, it happened again. Although the game was not over it certainly felt like and looked like it when surveying the Tigers’ dugout.
Koji Uehara finished the ninth with his usual devastating splitters that went left, right and down on command. He threw six straight strikes before Austin Jackson hit a hot shot up the middle that Drew couldn’t field. Fittingly Iglesias, a key component in a mid-season trade to Detroit, struck out to end the game and Detroit’s hopes. Fenway went nuts and the party began. Boston’s incredible, improbable run continued and the Tigers went home to lick their wounds and ponder what could have been.
It was an exhilarating win for the Fenway Faithful and all of Red Sox nation. Next stop, the World Series. Game 1 starts at 8 pm on Wednesday night as the Sox square off against the St. Louis Cardinals in a rematch of their 2004 World Series matchup that the Red Sox won in four straight.
Make sure to grab your World Series tickets for the first two games Wednesday and Thursday night at Fenway!