BOSTON -- The feel-good, redoubtable redeem team was unraveling. The Detroit Tigers' pitching wizard, Max Scherzer, had reduced the Boston Red Sox to a lineup of impotent flailers who could neither catch up with his fastball or solve his devastating slider.
Boston starter Clay Buchholz had imploded in the fifth and was chased from the game trailing 5-0, and it was fair to wonder if the "B Strong" cut into the grass of the Fenway outfield would soon be amended to "B Gone."
The Red Sox were going down.
"We were,'' outfielder Shane Victorino said, "as frustrated as frustrated could be.''
So were their athletic counterparts down in Foxborough, the New England Patriots, who had squandered a 17-7 halftime lead and watched helplessly as Drew Brees and the undefeated New Orleans Saints engineered a late drive that put them in front 27-23.
It had the markings one of the bleakest sports days in recent Boston memory, until …
Until Tom Brady added another notch on his belt of heart-stopping comebacks with a touchdown throw in the final seconds to win it.
Until David Ortiz yanked his team out of postseason oblivion with one stroke of the bat, launching the first grand slam of his illustrious playoff career to completely wipe out a seemingly insurmountable 5-1 deficit, tie the game, and spur his team on to a pulsating victory that instantly changed the complexion of the American League Championship Series.
Instead of limping to Detroit down 2-0, the Red Sox fly to the Motor City knotted 1-1 with new life and renewed confidence.
Big Papi has provided some gigantic heroics in his Red Sox career, but, his longtime teammate Dustin Pedroia agreed after the 6-5 win, "This one was special."
Not to mention desperately needed. For the second time in as many nights, Boston's hitters were completely flummoxed and overmatched by the Tigers' starters. This time, it was Scherzer who shut them down, throwing 5 2/3 innings of no-hit ball and leaving the game with a comfortable 5-1 cushion. Ortiz was 0-for-2 with two K's and a walk against Scherzer, having struck out chasing a fastball in the first inning, then getting fooled by a changeup in the sixth.
His frustration, the slugger conceded, was building. He was hitless in the series, having gone 0-for-4 one night earlier.
"On [Saturday] night we were trying to overdo things,'' Ortiz explained. "I was trying to produce for the team when the opposition was pitching me very carefully. I was chasing a lot of bad pitches.
"I felt like I was jumping a little bit. In my first couple of at-bats [tonight] I felt like I was doing some funny things.''
Meanwhile, down in Foxborough, a visibly annoyed Brady watched yet again as his young corps of receivers dropped passes and botched routes. Yet Brady encountered his own struggles. He sat stone-faced, alone on the bench, after he forced a long throw downfield with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left in the game that was easily picked off by cornerback Keenan Lewis.
"Everyone is a little deflated when we throw interceptions,'' Brady explained afterward, "but you've still got to bounce back, regardless of the situation.
"You've got to have enough mental toughness to come through.''
By the time Ortiz walked up to the plate in the eighth, Scherzer was relaxing in the dugout and closer Joaquin Benoit was on the mound, having inherited a bases-loaded situation. Ortiz, who, in Bradylike fashion, had been studying film of Benoit for days, reminded himself not to press.
He jumped on Benoit's first pitch -- a changeup -- and lofted it into the bullpen in center field.
"I just tried not to do too much,'' Ortiz said. "I tried to put a good swing on the ball. My idea wasn't to go out and hit a grand slam. If I tell you I was thinking about that, I'd be lying to you now.''
With Detroit's closer demoralized and Boston's dugout rejuvenated, manager John Farrell called for his closer, Koji Uehara, who retired the Tigers in order in the ninth. Jonny Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia combined for a pair of gritty hits in the bottom of the inning to put this win in the books.
When it was over, the Sox players saluted their 37-year-old slugger for his ability to remain calm under pressure.
"I know it's old hat for Ortiz,'' catcher David Ross marveled, "but I'd be like a little schoolgirl running the bases if I would have done that.
"It's what great players do. They perform like they've been doing it forever.''
Ross said he knew this because he was one of the Sox players who lingered in the clubhouse to watch the conclusion of the Patriots-Saints game.
"It was crazy in here,'' Dempster said. "We were jumping around shouting and celebrating. What a great day for New England sports.''
For much of Sunday night at Fenway Park that statement would have sounded like a cruel joke. The Sox simply couldn't generate any momentum, and as another inning passed without them able to conjure up anything that resembled a hit, Ross admitted he was concerned.
"We weren't hitting, and then Clay ran into trouble, but there was this fan right behind our dugout the whole time sitting there telling us, 'C'mon, swing the bat,''' Ross said. "He was being so positive. He kept saying, 'You know what happened with the Patriots today.' I was thinking, 'Wow, that guy has more hope than I do.'"
Ortiz's grand slam was the fourth in Red Sox postseason history. Pedroia said he has seen Papi deliver clutch hits so many times, "you almost come to expect it.''
But for some, such as young Will Middlebrooks, the bomb from Ortiz was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.
"I'm numb,'' said Middlebrooks, who was on base when Ortiz hit the ball out of the park. "This is the craziest thing I've ever experienced. I think I've used the word 'unbelievable' 100 times. It just shows you how good Ortiz still is. It just shows you can't ever count us out.''
He could have been talking about Brady and the Patriots. On a day where the uncertain status of Rob Gronkowski threatened to cast a pall over the locker room, on a day when injuries to Jerod Mayo, Aqib Talib and Danny Amendola further depleted a roster that already has absorbed some major injury hits, the franchise quarterback willed his team to a win.
Thanks to Brady, the Patriots are 5-1 and in excellent position to maneuver for the playoffs.
Thanks to Ortiz, the Sox will go to Detroit with a new outlook on their postseason, even as another dominant pitcher, Justin Verlander, awaits.
"That game we're going to have on Tuesday against Verlander, I'm pretty sure you're going to see guys have better at-bats,'' Ortiz predicted.
Pedroia said when a team is backed into the wall, one of two things can happen.
"You either cave in,'' he said, "or fight.''
On this day in Boston, they weren't alone.