BOSTON -- The Red Sox did not know it at the time, but David Ortiz was serving only appetizers at the barbecue he hosted at his house before the start of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.
The main dish, served steaming hot and seasoned only the way Big Papi can, came Sunday night, a grand slam that takes an honored place among the most dramatic October home runs Ortiz has ever delivered.
The Red Sox, held without a hit for 5 2/3 innings and still trailing by four runs with four outs left, tied the score with one big swing of Ortiz’s bat, the Red Sox DH slamming the first pitch from Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit over a leaping Torii Hunter and into the Red Sox's bullpen.
It was Ortiz’s third home run of this postseason, the 15th of his career, and for dramatic effect rivals the walk-off home run he hit off Paul Quantrill of the Yankees in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, when the Sox were in straits even more dire than they were Sunday night.
The slam tied the score, and the Red Sox won in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the ninth, 6-5, on a base hit by Jarrod Saltalamacchia after a throwing error by Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias, the wunderkind defender surrendered by the Sox in a trading-deadline deal with Detroit.
Jonny Gomes led off the ninth against Tigers reliever Rick Porcello with a ground ball into the shortstop hole that was fielded by Iglesias, who then tried to make an off-balance, acrobatic throw. The ball skipped past first baseman Prince Fielder and into the Sox's dugout for a throwing error, Gomes taking second.
Saltalamacchia lofted a pop fly to the first-base railing that skipped off Fielder’s glove in a forest of reaching hands. Porcello then uncorked a wild pitch, Gomes taking third, before Saltalamacchia banged a base hit past Iglesias, then kept sprinting past second base with his celebrating teammates wildly in pursuit.
On the verge of falling behind two games to none with Justin Verlander awaiting them in Game 3 in Detroit, the Red Sox’s 12th walk-off win in postseason history evened the series at a game apiece.
A one-out double by Will Middlebrooks off Tigers reliever Jose Veras began the game-tying rally in the eighth. Jacoby Ellsbury drew a full-count walk from lefty reliever Drew Smyly, with Tigers manager Jim Leyland then summoning his third pitcher of the inning, Al Alburquerque. He whiffed Shane Victorino, but Dustin Pedroia, who had doubled home Boston’s first run in the sixth, lined a single to right, loading the bases.
On came Benoit, pitcher No. 4 in the inning, and one pitch later, pandemonium, Ortiz living up to the plaque presented years ago to the Sox DH by Sox owners, calling him the “Greatest Clutch Hitter” in Sox history.
“We had one in hand and let one get away,” Leyland said afterward.
A night after Anibal Sanchez held the Red Sox without a hit for six innings, striking out a dozen, Max Scherzer went 5 2/3 innings without giving up a hit, pitched one more inning (7) than Sanchez did, and struck out one more batter (13).
The Tigers, meanwhile, teed off on Clay Buchholz for five runs, dropping a barrage of extra-base hits on the Sox right-hander in the sixth inning -- Miguel Cabrera home run into a left-field light tower, Fielder double, Victor Martinez double, Alex Avila two-run home run over the visitors' bullpen. Avila also had driven in Detroit’s first run with a second-inning single.
The Red Sox, the highest-scoring team in baseball this season, became the first team in postseason history to be held hitless for at least five innings in back-to-back games. In 324 regular-season games spanning the past four seasons, the Sox hadn’t gone five innings without a hit once.