Relief corps slammed in fateful eighth inning
Four pitchers each charged with one run of Ortiz's grand slam off Benoit
BOSTON -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland, with his bullpen in danger of blowing a four-run lead in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, had a choice to make on Sunday night at Fenway Park with Red Sox slugger David Ortiz stepping to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth.
Leyland could have brought in Phil Coke, even though Coke hadn't pitched since Sept. 18, since Ortiz was 2-for-18 in his career against the left-handed reliever. The other choice was right-handed closer Joaquin Benoit, the Tigers' best reliever, who had held left-handed batters to a .194 average during the regular season. They had also hit just one home run against him in 139 at-bats.
Leyland went with Benoit for what was the biggest moment of a game that the Tigers seemed to have well in hand just a few minutes earlier.
"Coke hadn't pitched a big game for quite a while," Leyland said afterward. "Benoit is our guy against the lefties, and we felt he gave us the best chance to get the out."
But Benoit didn't get the out, as Ortiz sent a first-pitch changeup into Boston's bullpen for a game-tying grand slam.
And one night after the Tigers' bullpen was so brilliant in a 1-0 victory in Game 1, the opposite was true. This time the relief corps couldn't hold a four-run lead in that pivotal eighth inning, and the Red Sox rallied for a 6-5 victory to even the best-of-seven series.
"They threw the ball well yesterday. Today we just made some mistakes in that inning, and they capitalized on it," catcher Alex Avila said. "Everybody was talking yesterday about how great our bullpen was. I kept saying, 'You can't take it for granted, because it can change in a moment.'"
This game changed during a stretch in which four relievers were used to get the Tigers through the eighth inning. Leyland went to the bullpen after Max Scherzer threw 108 pitches over seven innings.
First up was Jose Veras, who got Stephen Drew on a grounder to short, but Will Middlebrooks then doubled to left. Drew Smyly was then brought in for a lefty-lefty matchup with Jacoby Ellsbury, but he walked him after getting ahead, 1-2, in the count.
"I just let it slip," Smyly said. "Once I had 1-2, I didn't want to give him a good pitch to hit, and then at 3-2 I just missed low. That's all there was to it. That's baseball. It happens quick. I mean, Ortiz should never have come to the plate that inning."
Leyland brought in right-hander Al Alburquerque, who struck out Shane Victorino, but then Dustin Pedroia singled through the right side to load the bases. That's when Leyland called for Benoit to face Ortiz, hoping that his closer could get a four-out save.
Benoit recorded three four-out saves in the regular season and one against the Athletics in Game 1 of the AL Division Series. He also had a five-out save during the season, although one of his two blown saves came in a five-out situation.
"He believes in me and puts me in any situation," Benoit said. "Today was one of those days it didn't work."
Ortiz had six singles in 22 career at-bats against Benoit prior to this confrontation, along with five strikeouts and four walks. Benoit was not looking to pitch around Ortiz, even with a four-run lead.
"I like to attack hitters," Benoit said. "It's not the first time I've faced him. We've got a history. I've had some success against him, and he's had some success against me."
Benoit went with a first-pitch changeup, and Ortiz hit it deep to right-center. Right fielder Torii Hunter tried to make a leaping catch at the wall but couldn't get to it and instead tumbled into the Boston bullpen. Though the veteran was a bit banged up, he stayed in the game.
Ortiz had the first postseason grand slam of his career and, in a bit of an oddity, the four runs were charged to four different pitchers.
"I wanted it down, and I left it middle up," Benoit said. "He's a power hitter. At first I didn't think he hit it that good, but it kept carrying. It was a tough situation. Max pitched a great game. I had to get him out, and it didn't work for me. What can I do?"
Ortiz was looking for something off-speed.
"I know they are not going to let me beat them with a fastball in that situation," Ortiz said. "Plus I know that my boy Benoit, he has a good [changeup]. I take my chances in that situation."
Ortiz's grand slam only tied the score. The Red Sox didn't win it until the ninth, thanks to Jarrod Saltalamacchia's walk-off single off reliever Rick Porcello, but everything turned around in the eighth, and the Tigers are going back to Detroit with the series tied instead of with a commanding 2-0 lead.
"I'm [mad]," Hunter said. "The one guy you don't want to beat you, he beat us. One of the best hitters in postseason history. And this guy, he hit the ball out of the park and ties the game up and they end up coming back and winning the game. I'm [mad]. That's the way it goes. We all [are mad]. Everybody on this team is [mad] that that happened."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.