DETROIT — Its history being the fabric between generations and thus its most cherished currency, Major League Baseball is always ready to celebrate an iconic October moment.
Just ask Dennis Eckersley, who surely has seen the ghost of hobbled, fist-pumping Kirk Gibson more this week on the 25th anniversary of his legendary World Series home run than he has in his nightmares during all the years in the interim.
Or, as you, me, and Tim Wakefield were reminded incessantly by every sports station and social-media outlet all day, Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run in … well, hell, you know.
So I’ll just skip ahead here, mercifully, to the reason why I’m spending these words on these topics after the Red Sox’ frustrating, drama-free 7-3 loss to the Tigers in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at chilly Comerica Park.
A Red Sox rally could have been something special, and you know what? It wasn’t unfathomable. No, it didn’t happen — the five-run hole that Jake Peavy, with a dubious assist awarded to Dustin Pedroia, dug in the second inning proved too much to overcome. But it has happened before. Five years ago yesterday, as a matter of fact.
For those who see the glass as half full, who recognize that this Red Sox team is both a rare and special collection of players who don’t quit and a team damn fortunate to have had a 2-1 lead in this series entering Game 4, it’s a moment that popped to mind as the Sox tried to chip away against the Tigers.
Remember October 16, 2008? Game 5 of the Red Sox’ ALCS matchup with the Rays? The Sox entered the game down 3-1 and facing elimination … then promptly fell behind 7-0 through the top of the seventh inning. But David Ortiz hit a three-run homer in a four-run seventh … and J.D. Drew hit a two-run homer in a three-run eighth … and Coco Crisp tied it with an RBI single … and then there was the maligned Drew again, winning it with scorched line drive to right.
It was the second-biggest comeback in postseason history. And it made anything seem possible. Maybe it doesn’t rank as iconic by baseball’s measures, and perhaps it’s even forgettable to Red Sox fans since it came in a series that was ultimately lost.
But make no mistake — it’s out there as a beacon of hope on nights like Wednesday, when all seems lost when there are so many innings left to play.
The rally, the comeback, wasn’t attainable for the Red Sox in Game 4. The chance to celebrate history by repeating it was stifled by the fine pitching of Doug Fister, a fourth starter for the Tigers who would be an appreciated No. 2 on most staffs. Fister allowed eight hits and a run in six innings, and while the Red Sox knocked one run off the deficit in the eighth (Shane Victorino RBI double) and another in the ninth (Jacoby Ellsbury single to score Xander Bogaerts), they eventually ran out of outs, and hope, against Detroit’s bullpen.
David Ortiz flew to right off Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit to end, emitting a punctuating expletive that surely rang in unison with the words of so many fans back home in New England. Ortiz is now 1 for 15 in the series, the one being his series-altering grand slam off Benoit in Game 2.
Ortiz’s blast in Game 2 was further evidence that faith in baseball miracles are worth the investment. His final out last night was a reminder that this team has some significant issues to work through if they’re going to win this series.
The Red Sox were 2 for 16 with runners in scoring position Wednesday, leaving 10 runners stranded. Ortiz and Stephen Drew — right, J.D.’s brother — were a combined 0 for 9 with nine left on. Dustin Pedroia is now hitting .214 in the series, and played what had to be the worst game of his career when something significant was stake.
Perhaps Peavy wasn’t long for the game, his three walks in the second inning eclipsing the 2.2. he allowed per nine innings this season. But Pedroia’s failure to field a Jose Iglesias grounder cleanly resulted in a fielder’s choice rather than a double play, and the floodgates opened afterward. Peavy, who now has a 10.31 ERA in four career postseason starts, did not have the stuff Wednesday to deal with four-out innings.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland shook up his lineup and, despite his postgame protestations that it was nothing significant, saw results. Austin Jackson, 3 for 33 in the playoffs before last night with 18 strikeouts, was dropped from leadoff to the No. 8 spot and promptly walked four times. Miguel Cabrera, hitting second for the first time since 2004, had two hits and drove in two. New leadoff hitter Torii Hunter had the game-breaking two-run double in the second to make it 4-0.
Perhaps John Farrell will counter with some alterations of his own. Bogaerts, who doubled off Joaquin Benoit in the ninth, needs to play in place of either Drew, or better, Will Middlebrooks (.100 in this series). The Sox are finally hitting. The next step is to translate the hits into runs against this talented Tigers staff. Bogaerts is a wild card who may be able to help, though there’s a Mark Bellhorn-in-2004 warning light flashing about benching Drew too soon.
Sure, what’s ahead is daunting. It won’t be easy. But this team is resilient. We’ve seen them overcome so much already this season. Wednesday, they just couldn’t overcome what they did five years ago.