If you didn’t turn the TV off or go to sleep or leave the yard early, you witnessed something like a miracle tonight, something that wasn’t impossible but wasn’t quite possible, either, but somewhere in between.
In an effort to make sense of Boston’s 8-7 Game 5 victory, we present these storylines, ranked in order of significance:
1. The Red Sox completed the greatest comeback ever by a team facing playoff elimination. October 16, 2008, Game 5 ALCS. Etch it in recent Red Sox history, right next to Dave Roberts, David Ortiz, the Bloody Sock, all of it, no matter what happens over the weekend. They were down 7-0 with nine outs left. They scored four in the seventh, three in the eighth, and the winner in the ninth.
2. The Red Sox are two wins away from their third World Series in five years, and they will be boarding a plane to Tampa Bay within minutes. While you try to put this game in perspective, the Red Sox, still down, 3-2, in the series, are trying to figure out how to beat the Rays again. “There will be time,” Terry Francona said. “Hopefully we can sit back and think, ‘This is what got us over the hump.’ But we’re still climbing.”
3. J.D. Drew, superhero. He didn’t think, at one point, that he would play in these playoffs because of the herniated disc in his back. Now he has been the hero in two of the Red Sox’ five playoff wins. ALDS Game 2, in Anaheim, Calif., Drew hit the winning home run. Tonight, he blasted a line drive over the head of right fielder Gabe Gross.
4. How do the Rays bounce back from that? They were nine outs away from the World Series with a seven-run lead and six outs away from the World Series with a three-run lead. “I don’t think it’ll be that tough, actually,” Joe Maddon said. “Again, it’s one game. It’s a loss. We’ll lose heart for about a half-hour or so, get on that plane, go home, and then we’ll come back out for Game 6 and roll it out there again. I’m a firm believer in that. The more you dwell on something in a negative sense, the more it can permeate your existence. So we’re not going to do that.”
5. David Ortiz is back. This night does not happen without his monster, three-run home run in the seventh off of Grant Balfour, the first sign of life the Red Sox had shown all night and he had shown all series. He was 1 for his last 17 prior to that at-bat. He finally stayed on his back foot and extended his arms. And he crushed it, his first playoff homer in 15 games and 61 at-bats.
6. Coco Crisp had “his best at-bat he’s had as a Red Sox,” Francona said, to drive in the game-tying run in the eighth. He looked at nine pitches before lining the 10th from Wheeler into right field and scoring Mark Kotsay, who, by the way, has had an underappreciated and monster series. Kotsay doubled to deep center to give Crisp a chance.
7. The Fenway Park crowd redeemed itself last night. The Red Sox had been outscored 29-5 by the Rays at Fenway before the comeback began, and the crowd had not helped a bit. Once Ortiz came to the plate in the seventh, despite the seven-run deficit, the crowd came alive. It started chanting “Pa-Pi!” Ortiz went deep. “And then this place came unglued,” Francona said. “That was magical.”
8. Justin Masterson getting Carlos Pena to bounce into that 4-6-3 double play with two men on in the top of the ninth. The biggest pitch, to this point, of the Red Sox season. Jonathan Papelbon also gets credit here for his 1-2-3 eighth, with two Ks thrown in.
9. Youkilis thinking he was robbed by Evan Longoria … then receiving a gift with Longoria’s bad throw to first. The Red Sox were going to extra innings … and then they were winning the game.
10. The Rays bullpen is fallible. Balfour has been awful this whole series, but his fellow relievers joined him last night.
11. James Shields will pitch Game 6. Remember when Maddon was an idiot for going with Scott Kazmir in Game 5? That worked out OK — Kazmir allowed two hits and no runs over six innings. Now he gets his best pitcher to start at home.
12. Josh Beckett will receive a chance at redemption Saturday. And if he comes through, so will Jon Lester, on Sunday.