In a comeback that goes up there with any in the history of postseason play, the Red Sox pulled out a season-saving 8-7 triumph over the Rays in a Game 5 instant classic that can go down in the category of near miraculous.
A game that ended when J.D. Drew hit a screaming liner over the head of Tampa Bay right fielder Gabe Gross for a single that scored Kevin Youkilis with two outs in the bottom of the ninth seemed all but over entering the bottom of the seventh, when the Red Sox trailed, 7-0, against the red-hot Rays.
Somehow, though, it wasn't over. And for those who still don't believe it, the Red Sox and Rays will indeed play Game 6 Saturday night at Tropicana Field.
"We didn't want to go down 7-0," Drew said, "but there's a lot of fight in that dugout, and a lot of guys knew as soon as we got some runs on the board we could get something going."
"We were down by a lot of runs, and like I said before, we never give up," said David Ortiz, who bounced out of his slump in monumental fashion. "We keep on fighting, we keep on playing. We won tonight and we're going to try to keep on winning."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the comeback was the second largest in postseason history, eclipsed only by the Philadelphia A's rallying from 8-0 down to beat the Cubs in the 1929 World Series. But no team facing postseason elimination had ever come back from seven or more runs down.
"A playoff game facing elimination, we're down by so much," said center fielder Coco Crisp, who had one of many key hits during the rally back. "To come back and win it in the ninth with a walk-off like that from J.D., it's pretty much the most amazing game I've been a part of."
Can the Red Sox come back from the brink and ride the wave right into the World Series, like they did in 2004 when they came back from a 3-0 hole against the Yankees and against last year when they bounced back from a 3-1 deficit to the Indians?
Red Sox in Game 5s
|With a win Thursday vs. the Rays, the Red Sox are 6-1 in Game 5s when they are trailing 3-1 in a best-of-seven or best-of-nine postseason series.|
|1903||WS||Pittsburgh||Won||Won in 8|
|1967||WS||St. Louis||Won||Lost in 7|
|1986||ALCS||California||Won||Won in 7|
|1999||ALCS||New York||Lost||Lost in 5|
|2004||ALCS||New York||Won||Won in 7|
|2007||ALCS||Cleveland||Won||Won in 7|
Now they get a chance to find out.
"It's probably the most excited I've ever been to get on an all-night flight," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "I can't wait for the next game."
For nearly seven innings, it was sure hard to believe the defending World Series champions would have another game.
But hope started to make an appearance at Fenway when just after the seventh-inning stretch, after a Pedroia RBI single, Ortiz belted a towering three-run homer to right against Grant Balfour. With the deficit now down to three runs at 7-4, the Red Sox just kept coming.
"It feels good. I'm not going to lie to you," said Ortiz, who is 2-for-19 in the ALCS. "Especially the way we've been going. We haven't been hitting that well. I know this ballclub counts on me a lot."
Back came the Red Sox in the eighth. Drew slammed a two-run homer against Dan Wheeler to get Boston within one.
The Sox staged yet another rally in that eighth, even with two outs and nobody on. Mark Kotsay hit a double over the head of Rays center fielder B.J. Upton. Up stepped Crisp, who ripped a game-tying RBI single to right to culminate a 10-pitch at-bat.
"It was a battle," said Crisp. "He was throwing some tough pitches out there. I was able to foul them off. I stepped out every time and I was praying. Pretty much, I was saying prayers. 'This one time, let me come through for the team.'"
Once Crisp did just that, the Red Sox went to their unflappable rookie right-hander Justin Masterson, who wound up getting the win.
With two on and one out and the dangerous Carlos Pena at the plate, the sinkerballer got just what he needed, a 4-6-3 double play.
"[The pitch] was middle-ish but had some real good movement, and he rolled it over right to [Pedroia] and turned it to [Jed Lowrie], and Lowrie shot it over to Mark Kotsay," said Masterson. "It was a thing of beauty."
Now the Red Sox were suddenly in a sudden-death situation. The game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth started with two outs and nobody on, with lefty J.P. Howell now on for the Rays.
Francona in elimination games
|The Red Sox are 8-1 in elimination games under manager Terry Francona.|
Youkilis hit a spinning grounder to third that looked for an instant like it might end the inning. In a hurry to make a play, Evan Longoria fired to first, but his throw went into the stands, where it was caught by Red Sox medical director Thomas Gill. The play was ruled a hit and an error.
The Rays walked Jason Bay intentionally, putting the game in Drew's hands. The left-handed hitter worked the count to 3-1 and then bashed one to right. Gross never had a chance, as the ball just seemed to keep rising. Ultimately, it landed deep on the outfield grass. Youkilis roared home, and the Red Sox all mobbed each other at home plate.
"I hit it really well," said Drew. "I thought [I hit] well enough to get it over his head, but it's so deep in right field here. [I] didn't know if he would catch it or not."
So instead of packing up their lockers for the winter, the Red Sox gathered their bags for a flight to Florida.
"In baseball, you believe everything is possible," Kotsay said. "You've got to be an optimist and know that until the last out, anything is possible. I wasn't completely baffled that we tied it up, but at the same time, realizing the accomplishment and what it took to get there. As a club, we all fought together and got this thing done."
For the third consecutive game, the Rays did a lot of damage early.
Daisuke Matsuzaka became the third consecutive Boston starter to plant the offense in a 5-0 hole entering the bottom of the third inning, allowing Rays left-hander Scott Kazmir (six shutout innings) to get into a comfort zone.
After Akinori Iwamura led off the game with a single to right, Upton smashed Matsuzaka's 90-mph offering just over the Green Monster for a two-run homer.
The Rays again did their thing in the third. Pena unloaded for a two-run homer down the line in right. It was the third consecutive game Pena put one into the seats. Longoria followed up Pena by putting one over the Monster to make it 5-0. Not only that, but he topped Pena, homering for the fourth straight game to set an ALCS record.
As a last line of defense, Red Sox manager Terry Francona went to closer Jonathan Papelbon with two on and nobody out in the seventh. But not even that worked. After a double steal, Papelbon surrendered a two-run double off the Monster to the ridiculously hot Upton, making it 7-0. The runs were charged to Manny Delcarmen, however, keeping Papelbon's record postseason scoreless-inning streak alive -- which he would extend to 24 with his two scoreless frames.
Just when all seemed lost, the Red Sox pulled out a comeback for the ages.
"I mean, a loss and we stay home," Francona said. "I can't say [most of] the game was exciting, because the first six innings, we did nothing. They had their way with us every way possible. And then this place became unglued, and we've seen that before. But because of the situation we're in, it just -- that was pretty magical."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.