Given extra chance, Salty dons hero hat
Becomes first Sox catcher with walk-off postseason hit since Fisk's 1975 homer
BOSTON -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia's ninth-inning at-bat in Sunday's epic Game 2 of the American League Championship Series was a long journey that started in the unknown and ended in pure bliss for the Red Sox and their fans.
In many ways, it was a lot like the entire game itself.
And even though David Ortiz had already cemented himself as a postseason legend some 10 years ago and will go down as the hero of this one for his game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning, Saltalamacchia was the guy who got it done in the ninth.
And he made some pretty cool local history in the process.
Saltalamacchia's base hit past diving Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias with none out in the bottom of the ninth gave the Red Sox an improbable 6-5 victory and tied the ALCS at 1 heading to Detroit.
It was the first postseason walk-off hit by a Red Sox catcher since Carlton Fisk's iconic homer to win Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, also in Fenway Park.
The Red Sox looked hopeless for a while against Tigers starter Max Scherzer and could only scratch out a run heading into the eighth. Saltalamacchia himself had come the closest to getting something started when he belted a fly ball to deep right field in the fifth inning. But that ball hung up in the cool autumn air, allowing Detroit right fielder Torii Hunter to haul it in.
So Boston trailed, 5-1, before loading the bases for Ortiz in the eighth and watching him clear them with one vicious swing off closer Joaquin Benoit with two out.
In the ninth, after a shutdown inning by Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, outfielder Jonny Gomes led off the bottom of the frame with an infield single and moved to second base on a throwing error by Iglesias.
That's when Saltalamacchia stepped in against Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello, who opened the pivotal at-bat with a low fastball outside. Ball one.
"Well, my approach changed," Saltalamacchia said. "At first, man on second, I was trying to get him over. After he threw that first pitch down and away, I figured that's how they were going to pitch me. I tried bunting earlier in the year against them and it didn't work out so well. I figured I'd go ahead and swing the bat. And I felt good."
The second pitch was another fastball. Ball two.
"Once the fastball happened, the approach changed a little bit, trying to hit the ball up the middle and take your chance," Saltalamacchia said.
On the third pitch, Saltalamacchia swung and got a piece of the ball, but it was not what he wanted. He popped it up foul off first base. First baseman Prince Fielder drifted over toward the stands, looking like he had a bead on it. He settled under it. Saltalamacchia was hoping with everything he had that it would get into the crowd. It didn't.
But it glanced off Fielder's glove and gave the catcher and the Red Sox new life.
"I didn't think he was going to catch it," Saltalamacchia said, "and I think if you watch the replay, I was fist pumping when he did drop it. That's a big difference with men on third and one out and men on second and still one out. That was a big turning point, I think."
Porcello seemed to think so, too, because his next pitch was low and away and got away from catcher Alex Avila for a wild pitch.
The fifth pitch was the 94-mph fastball that Saltalamacchia shot past Iglesias, ending the game and starting a big party in Boston.
For Saltalamacchia, it was just another little part of what the 2013 season has been like for these Red Sox. Sure, they were one-hit in Game 1, and sure, they didn't have any hits in Game 2 until the sixth inning. But they never stop grinding.
"We felt that sense we were going to break out of it," Saltalamacchia said. "We had to."
Amidst the celebration, the other Boston catcher, David Ross, could only watch his teammate with shared joy.
"I love it," Ross said. "I root for him. Man, I feel like we're a team, me and him. Nobody else knows what it's like to call pitches and go through what it's like to catch, so I'm as happy as can be for him."