Red Sox reach World Series, thanks to Shane Victorino's grand slam
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BOSTON -- Shane Victorino was better known this postseason for getting hit by pitches than for hitting them.
That changed dramatically Saturday night.
Victorino, who has struggled much of the postseason, hit a one-out grand slam in the seventh inning off former Yankee Jose Veras to propel the Red Sox past the Tigers, 5-2, in Game 6 of the ALCS and into the World Series against the Cardinals. That series starts Wednesday at Fenway Park.
Winning their 13th AL pennant completed a remarkable turnaround for the Red Sox. They were coming off a 69-93 record in 2012, a one-and-done season for manager Bobby Valentine that came on the heels of the disastrous 2011 September collapse that cost Terry Francona his job.
After John Farrell replaced Valentine as Red Sox manager, the club started fast and didn't stop winning. And still hasn't.
"We knew we had something special when we got to spring training," said shortstop Stephen Drew, whose diving stop on Miguel Cabrera's grounder up the middle in the sixth kept Boston's deficit at 2-1. "You don't know how team chemistry is going to work until you get there, and there was something about it. Clubhouse is always loose, we have a lot of fun, and everyone has confidence in each other."
Virtually unhittable Red Sox closer Koji Uehara pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his third save in the series and earn MVP honors.
The Red Sox trailed 2-1 going into the seventh, another predictably tight game in a series full of them. Four of the first five games were one-run contests and, one way or the other, this one seemed destined to end the same way.
"It was breathtaking," Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said of the series. "The stress and strain on each pitch . . . You didn't want to move, you didn't want to get out of your seat. Every pitch seemed to matter. Every play on the field seemed to matter. It's baseball the way it oughtta be."
Afterward, there was plenty to lament in that regard for the Tigers, who would have had Justin Verlander going for them in Game 7.
There was some awful baserunning by Prince Fielder that short-circuited a sixth-inning rally and a double play that wasn't turned by usually surehanded shortstop Jose Iglesias preceding Victorino's grand slam.
"Once again, collectively, we just didn't do good enough," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Max Scherzer started the seventh with a 2-1 lead and nearly saw Jonny Gomes tie it right away. His drive to leftfield came within about a foot of a home run and wound up a double off the Green Monster.
Scherzer struck out Drew but walked Xander Bogaerts, the 21-year-old rookie getting a second straight start at third base.
With Scherzer at 110 pitches, Leyland brought in lefthander Drew Smyly to face Jacoby Ellsbury. Smyly got Ellsbury to hit a grounder that Iglesias fielded behind second base. But Iglesias, dealt to the Tigers from the Red Sox earlier in the season, couldn't handle the ball cleanly, and the bases were loaded for Victorino.
The rightfielder had been hit by five pitches this postseason, a highlight compared to his 8-for-35 performance at the plate coming in, including 2-for-21 this series. But Victorino -- 0-for-2 with a HBP, of course -- hit Veras' 0-and-2 curveball into the first row of seats above the Green Monster for his second career grand slam. That put the Red Sox ahead 5-2 and prompted an expressive trot around the bases.
"I was definitely excited running around the bases, the pounding in my chest," Victorino said. "I've been that kind of guy. I don't like when teams show that kind of emotion. And I hope they understand it was a special moment for me, for the city. And no disrespect, again, the guys across the way, we played the Tigers, I respect those guys like no other, the staff, everybody. It was a special moment."