David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - The highlight of the night for the despondent Fenway crowd had been singing "Sweet Caroline," a giddy exercise that felt totally inappropriate for the dire situation the Red Sox were facing.
An inning later, in the eighth, they were four outs away from an 0-2 deficit in this ALCS, which would be switching to Comerica Park for tomorrow night's Game 3. Waiting for the Red Sox there would be Justin Verlander, and after their offensive futility against Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, it was not a comforting thought.
But with the bases loaded in that eighth, up walked David Ortiz, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland called on closer Joaquin Benoit for the showdown that would tip the scales of this series.
"I think everyone knew something good was going to happen," Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.
It didn't take very long. Ortiz turned on the first-pitch changeup and smacked a long drive toward the Boston bullpen. Torii Hunter figured he had a chance, but the ball sailed over his glove as he tumbled, head over heels, onto the bullpen floor.
The first grand slam of Ortiz's illustrious postseason career set up Saltalamacchia's walk-off single in the ninth that produced a stunning 6-5 win over the Tigers.
"We're going to play it to the final out," Sox manager John Farrell said. "So many times David has come up big, whether it's the regular season, postseason. And none bigger than tonight."
At last, Fenway came alive, and as Ortiz circled the bases -- with Leyland rushing out to check on the dazed Hunter -- the Red Sox were back from oblivion, too. "We needed it, man," Ortiz said.
Boston wasn't officially cooked before Ortiz's grand slam, of course, but it sure felt that way. Just as it did in 2004, when the Yankees dug an 0-3 hole for the Red Sox in the ALCS and then stood there, shovel in hand, unable to toss on that last mound of dirt.
The player primarily responsible for that was Ortiz, who won Game 4 with a homer in the 12th and won Game 5 with an RBI single in the 14th. Ortiz added a home run in Game 7 to cement MVP honors of that ALCS and guarantee he'd never have to pay for dinner in Boston again.
"You watch it on TV for so many years, growing up watching him," Saltalamacchia said. "There's nobody really surprised when he does something like he does. But it's unbelievable."
Now the Tigers, to some degree, know the exasperation the Yankees must have experienced during that October of Ortiz.
Through seven innings, Detroit seemed to have a firm grip on this series. After two nights of watching the Red Sox swing themselves silly against Sanchez and Scherzer -- the two totaled 25 strikeouts in 13 innings -- it was starting to feel like football season in these parts. At least the Patriots are capable of delivering a few hits.
The Red Sox, an offensive juggernaut during the regular season, had been outclassed by the two pitchers. Or maybe outfoxed is more like it. Boston's patient approach backfired as both righthanders pounded the strike zone. The Red Sox became the first team in history to be no-hit for at least five innings in back-to-back playoff games.
The Fenway crowd erupted in a loud cheer after Shane Victorino singled with two outs in the sixth for the first Boston hit and joined the select group that actually made contact against Scherzer, but there really wasn't much to get excited about. The Tigers already had a 5-0 lead by then, and Scherzer had never blown a lead of that size. In fact, Detroit was 24-0 in those Scherzer starts, including the postseason.
But Ortiz has some impressive numbers of his own, and usually saves his best for October. Heading into Sunday night, he was a .284 hitter in the postseason, with 14 homers and 50 RBIs in 71 career games with the Twins and Red Sox. Then he provided another instant classic.
"I tell you what, man," Ortiz said, "the postseason is something that can work both ways for you. It can go well if you stay calm. Or it can go bad if you try to overdo things. It happens to all of us. So we pretty much needed the momentum. And I think winning this game is going to tell a lot."