Salt and Papi! Red Sox storm back late, knot ALCS

Salt and Papi! Red Sox storm back late, knot ALCS

Salt and Papi! Red Sox storm back late, knot ALCS

BOSTON -- They keep talking about things like mental toughness and resilience, and the inner belief that they can overcome whatever comes their way.

But perhaps nobody quite realized what these Red Sox were talking about until they completed their surreal comeback in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia ended a stirring 6-5 victory Sunday night by punching a walk-off single to left with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth to score Jonny Gomes and even the ALCS at one win apiece.

"Goose bumps, it feels great," Saltalamacchia said. "This crowd gets behind us so much and it's so easy for us to just go out there and make things happen."

Before getting to that point where spines tingled throughout Fenway, the Red Sox had to literally resuscitate their offense, which had produced one hit -- yes, one hit -- in the first 14 innings of the series.

And before they stalked Saltalamacchia as he rounded first and carried the walk-off hero all the way into a celebratory mob scene in short center field, the Red Sox needed another magic October moment from David Ortiz, who merely clocked a game-tying grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the eighth against Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit.

"Unbelievable," said third baseman Will Middlebrooks. "I mean, I know I've said unbelievable probably about 100 times. I'm pretty numb right now. I'm pretty speechless."

The Red Sox trailed, 5-0, heading into the bottom of the sixth and seemed certain to head to Detroit not only in an 0-2 series deficit, but with a matchup against Tigers star righty Justin Verlander, who didn't allow a run in 15 innings in the AL Division Series.

"The way this team's built, there were no doubts in our mind when we had no hits in the sixth that we were going to win it," said Gomes. "That's just the character and identity we've built throughout the season."

It was Gomes who started the winning rally against Tigers reliever Rick Porcello, reaching on an infield single to shortstop and then moving up to second when the throw by Jose Iglesias sailed wildly past first.

Prince Fielder had a chance to retire Saltalamacchia on a foul ball, but the first baseman dropped it as he tried to get position in front of the fans in the front row on the first-base line. A wild pitch pushed Gomes to third and put Saltalamacchia in prime position to belt the game-winner, which he slapped past the diving Iglesias and into left.

Ballgame.

As they headed back home, the Tigers had to be wondering what hit them. Then again, they know who hit them. He wears No. 34.

"I'm [ticked] off," Tigers right fielder Torii 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. That's the way it goes. We're all [ticked]."

The Red Sox were the frustrated ones before the eighth. They became the first team in history to be no-hit for five innings in back-to-back postseason games.

How had their offense -- which had been perhaps the best in the Majors all season -- become that anemic for two straight nights?

Anibal Sanchez, the AL leader in ERA, handcuffed them in Game 1 by throwing six hitless innings and striking out 12. Max Scherzer, the leading candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award, might have been even better than that in this one, firing seven innings of two-hit ball and punching out 13.

"And the past couple of days, I mean, you see the whole regular season you haven't seen a team shutting us down for 14, 15 straight innings like they have the past couple of days," said Ortiz. "If you look at the way we've been pitching, unbelievable. We played those guys seven times during the season, they have a totally different approach, the way they've been pitching these past couple of days. It's up to us make an adjustment."

Ortiz and his teammates will try to work on those adjustments against Detroit's starting staff by Game 3 (Tuesday, 4 p.m. ET, FOX), when they are forced to deal with the nasty offerings of Verlander.

But before getting to that point, they at least grinded out Scherzer to the point he had to leave the game after seven.

And that's when all the fun started for the Red Sox.

Middlebrooks started it with a one-out double down the line against Jose Veras in the eighth. Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk against Drew Smyly. Al Alburquerque then came on and had some initial success, striking out Shane Victorino.

Dustin Pedroia kept hope alive for the Sox, punching a single to right-center to load the bases.

Bases loaded and Big Papi up? The Red Sox couldn't have asked for much more, the way things had transpired until that point.

"That's what we try to do, is get guys on for him," Pedroia said. "He's our big bat."

Ortiz has been known to work at-bats into his favor. But in this one, he jumped right in, ripping Benoit's first-pitch changeup into Boston's bullpen in right-center.

Hunter went as far as he could and actually tumbled backwards into the bullpen as the homer landed just out of his reach, and into the welcoming mitt of bullpen catcher Mani Martinez.

"I knew I put a good swing on it," Ortiz said. "I got my boy Torii chasing everything out there, nine-time Gold Glove [Award winner], you never know, he almost caught that ball. But thank God it went in the bullpen."

The noise level at Fenway when Ortiz's homer cleared the wall? Deafening.

"I've seen some great things, but that was pretty special," Pedroia said. "I didn't actually see [Hunter] go over. I was rounding second, so I kind of went off the crowd's reaction."

Middlebrooks, who wasn't around for some of the glory moments of Boston's not so distant past, was still beside himself when trying to recall his feelings on the grand slam.

"It was like a movie," Middlebrooks said. "That was the coolest thing I've ever been a part of. I want to see how I jumped when I hit home plate. I want to go back and see that because I felt like a little kid again."

It was Boston's first postseason grand slam since J.D. Drew in Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS and fourth all time.

"We're going to play it to the final out," said manager John Farrell. "David so many times has come up big, whether it's regular season, postseason and none bigger than tonight."

Before the amazing happened, the Red Sox were just trying to get back on their feet.

Victorino brought some life back into the crowd when he lined a single to left with one out in the sixth, breaking up Scherzer's no-hit bid.

Pedroia followed with a double high off the Green Monster and Victorino roared in, cutting Detroit's lead to 5-1.

"Geez, he was pretty good," Pedroia said of Scherzer. "He commanded all his pitches. His fastball was alive. There's a reason he's 21-3. We scored that one run and finally got him out of the game. When he's pitching like that, you don't want to face him. You want to get him out of there."

Clay Buchholz did his part early, allowing one run through the first five innings.

Then came the top of the sixth, and the Tigers went for the jugular against Buchholz. With one out, Miguel Cabrera ripped a solo shot over the Monster. Fielder followed with a double. Victor Martinez ripped an RBI single to right-center. Alex Avila delivered a crushing blow, a two-run homer that soared over Boston's bullpen in right to make it 5-0.

But the Red Sox stormed back, turning this into one of those nights that could hold a special place in Boston's postseason lore.

"We've got a ballclub that battles," Ortiz said. "We fight. We never give up. You saw it through the whole season. We found a way to get back and try to win a ballgame. It's never over until the last out, you know?"

Those who truly didn't know that do now.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.