Sitting on 108 pitches after seven innings, Max Scherzer said he knew his night was coming to an end.
He took a no-hitter into the seventh, piled up 13 strikeouts and left the Tigers with a 5-1 lead that would ultimately go up in smoke after David Ortiz’s grand slam in the eighth and Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s walkoff single, which sealed the Sox 6-5 win in Game 2 of the ALCS.
But if there were any questions about whether Tigers manager Jim Leyland pulled Scherzer too soon, Scherzer put them to bed.
“I just knew I was at my limit,” Scherzer said. “You have to be smart. It’s still early in the series. You have to gauge your health, because my health is important to the team, and I reached my pitch count limit.”
Scherzer, like Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander before him, flirted with a no-hitter, baffling the Red Sox lineup with his slider and holding them hitless through 6 2/3 innings.
“You’re aware that it’s going on, but I was just focused on pitching,” he said. “When you’re in the postseason, you can’t get caught up in personal achievements. I’m out there trying to go as long as I can and minimize the damage, trying to prevent as many runs coming across. Regular season, yeah, you might get caught up in it, try to pitch for it. But postseason, nah, there’s no chance.”
But after pitching three scoreless innings to preserve a one-run lead in Game 1, the Tigers bullpen couldn’t make a four-run lead hold up.
“It’s playoff baseball,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “Looked like we had one in hand and we let one get away. There’s no question about that. But there have been two great games, no question about it.
“Scherzer was terrific. He was spent. Last night our bullpen was flawless, and tonight it wasn’t quite as good.”
Jaoquin Benoit, who pitched a clean ninth to earn the save on Saturday, came in with the bases loaded in the eighth and gave up the game-tying grand slam to Ortiz.
“It’s a tough situation,” Benoit said. “Max pitched a great game and I tried to come in and tried to get him out and it didn’t work for me.”
Settling for a split at Fenway after having complete control of the series seemed to drain a clubhouse that at one point had every reason to be confident as the series swings back to Detroit for Game 3.
“The one guy you don’t want to beat you and he beat us,” said outfielder Torii Hunter, who went flying over the short fence in front of the Red Sox bullpen trying to chase down Ortiz’s homer. “One of the best hitters in postseason history and this guy, he hits the ball out of the park and it ties the game up and they end up coming back and winning the game. I’m pissed. That’s just the way it goes.”
• The spill that Hunter took into the Red Sox bullpen left him breathless and aching, but the loss hurt more, he said.
“My hip, it hit the top of the wall,” Hunter said. “When I went up, I hit the top of the wall and it flipped me and it kind of just bruised it a little bit, but I mean, this is the postseason. I’ll die on the field for this. So you’re not going to take me off this field.”
Hunter went cartwheeling over the wall trying make an impossible grab, showing the desperation of a player who’s been to the postseason seven times in his 17-year career but has never reached the World Series.
“That’s all you can do is keep fighting,” he said. “Keep battling and I’ll put some ice on it or some Robitussin on it or something later.”
• Leyland was asked why he chose not to have Phil Coke pitch to David Ortiz instead of Benoit. Ortiz was 2 for 18 lifetime against Ortiz with no home runs allowed and 6 for 22 against Benoit.
“Coke hadn’t pitched a big game for us in a while,” Leyland said. “Benoit is our guy against the lefties and we felt he gave us the best chance to get the out.”