BOSTON -- Before the series, Tigers manager Jim Leyland tried to downplay the role the teams' bullpens would play.

"I think this will be a starting pitching series," he said. "With the exception of the ninth inning, most likely."

What about the eighth?

Sunday night's penultimate inning very well may have been a series-changer. The Tigers' bullpen coughed up a four-run lead as David Ortiz hit a tying grand slam with two outs.

Then the Red Sox won it, 6-5, on Jarrod Saltalamacchia's RBI single with none out in the ninth.

"It's playoff baseball," said Leyland, who faced plenty of second-guessing for his bullpen moves. "Looked like we had one in hand and we let one get away, there's no question about that."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Said Red Sox manager John Farrell: "David so many times has come up big, whether it's regular season or postseason, none bigger than tonight."

That goes without saying. The Red Sox not only were four outs away from an 0-2 series deficit, but the Tigers' Justin Verlander loomed in tomorrow night's Game 3 in Detroit.

"We need it, man," Ortiz said. "We need to start some momentum going on."

After being held hitless for 81/3 innings and striking out 17 times in their 1-0 Game 1 loss, the Red Sox were held hitless by Max Scherzer for 52/3 innings in Game 2. He struck out 13 and allowed two hits and a run in seven innings, but the bullpen ruined his outing.

After four relievers combined to allow four runs in the eighth, the Tigers completely came apart in the ninth behind Rick Porcello. Jonny Gomes led off with an infield single, reached second on a throwing error by shortstop Jose Iglesias and advanced to third on Porcello's wild pitch. With the infield in, Saltalamacchia's single ended the wild night in front of a frenzied crowd at Fenway Park.

Still, the focus afterward was on the eighth, and Ortiz in particular, after the big DH brought the Red Sox offense back to life.

Through 52/3 innings Sunday night, the Red Sox had one hit in 142/3 innings in the series and had struck out 27 times. They also trailed 5-0 at that point. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Scherzer had been given a five-run lead 24 previous times in his career, including the postseason. His teams were 24-0 in those games.

But with two outs in the sixth, Shane Victorino began the comeback with a single (Boston's first hit of Game 2) and scored on Dustin Pedroia's double off the Green Monster to make it 5-1.

With Scherzer at 108 pitches after seven innings, Leyland went to his bullpen, which did the job in Game 1. It most decidedly did not in Game 2.

Former Yankee Jose Veras started the eighth by getting Stephen Drew to ground out, but Will Middlebrooks doubled and Leyland began what would be an inning full of pitching changes.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

He summoned lefthander Drew Smyly to face Jacoby Ellsbury, who walked. In came righthander Al Alburquerque, who struck out Victorino. But when Pedroia singled, Leyland called on righthander Joaquin Benoit to face the lefthanded-hitting Ortiz.

Lefthander Phil Coke, against whom Ortiz was 2-for-18, was ready, but Leyland chose Benoit. Ortiz was 6-for-22 against him.

Said Leyland, "Coke hadn't pitched a big game for quite a while. Benoit is our guy against the lefties and we felt he gave us the best chance to get the out.''

But Ortiz tore into a first-pitch changeup, sending it into the Red Sox bullpen in right-center. Torii Hunter gave it a good chase, tumbling over the short wall at full speed, with his entire body crashing into the bullpen. As the crowd erupted, bullpen personnel frantically waved for the Detroit trainer as Hunter remained down. He eventually got up and stayed in the game.

"If I was telling you I was trying to hit a grand slam, I'd be lying to you," Ortiz said. "You try to put a good swing on the ball and that happens."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Hunter used a childhood analogy in discussing Ortiz.

"Don't touch the hot stove anymore," the affable rightfielder said. "Your mama will let you touch it once just to let you burn yourself so you'll never do it again. The hot stove is David Ortiz. Don't want to touch that stove anymore."