Shane Victorino came into Game 6 of the ALCS batting 2-for-22 (.091). In his first three plate appearances Saturday night, he grounded out, struck out and was hit by a pitch.
So he's exactly the guy you'd pick to be the hero for the Red Sox when they were down 2-1 to the Tigers in the seventh inning, right? Or maybe you'd say he was due.
With the bases loaded, Jose Veras got ahead of Victorino on a no-ball, two-strikes count with two curveballs, but he threw one off-speed pitch too many. Victorino was ready for a third consecutive curve and didn't miss it, crushing that hanging pitch over the Green Monster. It was the second time in this series that the Red Sox hit a grand slam to complete a comeback. This one was the knockout blow, lifting Boston to a 5-2 win, the series clincher and an American League pennant.
Tigers starter Max Scherzer began the seventh with 94 pitches and a 2-1 lead, and manager Jim Leyland had to be hoping he could get through the inning.
However, Jonny Gomes led off the inning with a double high off the Green Monster that was nearly a home run. Scherzer followed up by striking out Stephen Drew, but then walked Xander Bogaerts after getting ahead with a one-ball, two-strikes count. Next, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a grounder up the middle which was fielded by shortstop Jose Iglesias. But Iglesias bobbled the ball when trying to shovel it with his glove to Omar Infante at second base.
With Ellsbury's speed, a double play was surely out of the question. But Iglesias' error prevented the Tigers from getting an out at second base and eliminating one Red Sox baserunner. It wasn't the only mistake Detroit made in the game, however.
Though the Tigers did take a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth, they had a chance to score more runs. Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz walked Torii Hunter and gave up a single to Miguel Cabrera to lead off the inning. Franklin Morales relieved Buchholz and walked Prince Fielder on four straight pitches. Bases loaded, no outs. Morales stayed in to make the switch-hitting Victor Martinez bat right-handed.
The left-hander made a pretty good pitch to Martinez, a 94 mph fastball low and inside. But the Tigers DH turned on it and hit a line drive to left field that may have been a home run in many other MLB ballparks. In Fenway Park, however, it was a long single (for a faster runner than Martinez, it likely would have been a double) that drove in two runs. What happened next is a play that will surely be grumbled about through the winter by Tigers fans.
Jhonny Peralta hit a ground ball toward second base and Dustin Pedroia tagged out Martinez. He then threw home to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who caught Fielder in a rundown on the third-base line. Perhaps Fielder should have just run on contact and he would've scored. We'll never know. But he turned back toward third and stopped about 12 feet from the bag, apparently hoping that he could get Saltalamacchia to stop and allow him to dive back safely.
Unfortunately, Fielder didn't really propel himself forward so much as just up in the air and then down. He landed at least five feet from third base and was tagged out by Saltalamacchia. Though it was the second out of the inning, not the third, Fielder's baserunning blunder effectively killed the Tigers' rally.
Yet the argument could be made that Detroit wouldn't have taken the lead in the sixth had Pedroia's drive down the left-field line in the third inning not hooked barely foul, missing a three-run homer by inches. Yet that's dealing with a "what if." Fielder's gaffe was absolute reality.
With Victorino's grand slam giving the Red Sox the lead going into the eighth, manager John Farrell then turned to the late-inning crew that shut down the Tigers throughout this series. Lefty Craig Breslow pitched a 1-2-3 inning, retiring Fielder, Martinez and Don Kelly (a defensive replacement for Peralta) in order. Koji Uehara struck out Alex Avila on three pitches, then got Infante to ground out. Austin Jackson did hit an infield single, but Uehara struck out Iglesias to end the game and put the Red Sox in the World Series.
Uehara was named ALCS MVP, allowing no runs with nine strikeouts in six innings of work. He notched three saves in the series, two of which were earned by pitching more than one inning. It's an appropriate honor, considering how crucial the Red Sox bullpen was in this series. Having Uehara at the end of the game was the difference, much as it's been for Boston ever since he took over as closer (and even prior to that as the setup man).
Game 1 of the World Series between the Red Sox and Cardinals will be Wednesday in Boston at 8:07 p.m. on FOX. Adam Wainwright is expected to start for St. Louis. Boston hasn't announced its starter, but with three days off, Jon Lester could get the start as he did in the ALDS and ALCS openers. Otherwise, if the Red Sox follow their rotation, John Lackey might get the call. However, with Lester getting five days rest, that seems unlikely.
[GIF via For the Win]