BOSTON – For the first 16 innings of the American League Championship Series, the Detroit Tigers seemed in total control.
But David Ortiz may have saved the Boston Red Sox's season with a two-out grand slam that Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter was inches away from catching before he crashed into the Boston bullpen.
GAME 2: Big Papi saves Boston
BOX SCORE: Red Sox 6, Tigers 5
And instead of the Tigers riding a string of dominant pitching to a 2-0 lead back to Detroit, the ALCS is knotted a game apiece and the Red Sox are savoring an improbable comeback that arose from one unforgettable play.
"The one guy you don't want to beat you … and he beat us," an aching Hunter said afterward. "One of the best hitters in postseason history and he hit it out of the park and it ties the game up. They end up coming back and winning the game. I'm (furious).
"I was trying my best to just stop that ball from going over the fence. I'd sacrifice my body if I have to. I've done that my whole career. This is postseason. I'd die on the field for this."
The Tigers had built a 5-1 lead and when starter Max Scherzer came out of the game after 108 pitches and seven masterful innings ("I was done," he said emphatically afterward.), manager Jim Leyland turned the game over to the bullpen.
BREAKDOWN: Turning point of Game 2
And the Red Sox found an opening in the fortress they hadn't yet been able to crack. To that point in the first two games, the Tigers had held Boston to one run and a total of three hits in 51 at-bats – an .059 average.
"The whole regular season you haven't seen a team shutting us down for 14, 15 straight innings like they have done the past couple of days," Ortiz said. "They way they've been pitching us the past couple of days, it's up to us to make an adjustment."
With his one swing, Ortiz made a major adjustment to the balance of the series – and did so in the dramatic way Boston fans have come to expect from him.
Despite his many postseason heroics, Ortiz had never hit a grand slam in the playoffs. Until now.
"You can't pitch around him with the bases loaded," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said afterward.
After the Red Sox had spent much of the first two games taking strike one, Ortiz pounced on a first-pitch change-up from closer Joaquin Benoit.
"It was just a little bit up," Avlia said. "It was up enough that he just got good wood on it."
Ortiz lifted the ball deep into the Boston night, toward the Red Sox bullpen in right field. Hunter, a nine-time Gold Glove Award winner, raced back for it.
"I lost it in the lights for a second," Hunter said. "And then I picked it up again. I tried to make the adjustment ..." He extended his glove, missing the ball by inches as he reached back for it "and the next thing I know I was flipping over the wall.
Hunter was down for several moments as a trainer was summoned to the Red Sox bullpen. He landed awkwardly and had the wind knocked out of him, but he stayed in the game.
"I was trying my best to just stop that ball from going over the fence," Hunter said. "I'd sacrifice my body if I have to. I've done that my whole career."
Teammates and opponents alike have become accustomed to seeing Hunter make those kinds of catches.
"Torii always scare me. He's one of the best outfielders I ever saw in my life," said Ortiz, whose ties to Hunter go back to when they both broke into the majors in 1997 with the Minnesota Twins.
"When he hit it, I didn't think it had enough to get out," Avila said. "It just kept going. Torii got pretty close to it. I wasn't sure there but once the crowd started cheering, I figured it was gone."
And just that quickly, the Red Sox were back in the game – and the series. A game-winning RBI single from Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the bottom of the ninth seemed almost a foregone conclusion.
Instead of celebrating another pitching masterpiece, the Tigers will need to regoup from what Scherzer admitted was one of his most painful losses. "Probably just because of the nature of it and you're dealing with the postseason," he said. "Whenever you lose one in the postseason, it hurts."
Still the Tigers can take some comfort knowing they did get a split in Boston and have Justin Verlander on the mound in Comerica Park for Game 3 on Tuesday.
"That's the positive about it," said first baseman Prince Fielder. "We definitely should have won that game. It happens. We got one. Let's see what we can do at home."
ALCS: RED SOX vs. TIGERS