Before Jacoby Ellsbury ever stepped toward the plate, before the more-than-strange pitching change in the middle of his at-bat, before he launched the game-winning double over the head of Indians center fielder Michael Bourn toward the Green Monster, before his teammates rushed from the Red Sox dugout high on the adrenaline of another successful rally, there were seven pitches.
Seven intense and important pitches to Jose Iglesias, a hitter with barely 100 major league at-bats.
The Sox had spent the ninth inning digging furiously out of a 5-2 hole, one quality at-bat at a time. “Everybody was on the tips of their toes,’’ David Ortiz said. “Everybody was pushing for each other and trying to make things happen.’’
When Iglesias walked into the batter’s box, they were down to their last out.
The fastball that Chris Perez pumped down the middle of the plate was the opening bell to the most crucial at-bat in the Red Sox’ 6-5 win. Iglesias took it for a strike, and the battle began.
Perez fed him two sliders in the dirt. Iglesias wouldn’t bite. A fastball came up and in, Iglesias fouled it off. Another slider flirted with the outside part of the plate. Iglesias found a way to spoil it. Perez tried again and came nowhere near the plate.
The seventh pitch — a fastball down and away — was a heart-stopper.
If plate umpire Chris Guccione had called it a strike, not even Iglesias could have shaken his head.
Guccione didn’t make a sound. First base was Iglesias’s for the taking, a reward for a having the eye of a jeweler. The bases thus were loaded.
“That was the game right there,’’ said Ortiz. “That was unbelievable. He fouled some nasty pitches. He stuck to his plan.’’
Ellsbury had waiting in the on-deck circle, building a game plan based what Perez had thrown to Iglesias. He had no idea he’d have to throw that plan out.
There were signs that Perez was breaking down. A few times in the inning, he hunched over, trying to mask some pain.
After throwing three pitches to Ellsbury, he folded over altogether. He was surrounded on the mound by teammates, trainers, and manager Terry Francona.
When Perez he tried another pitch to test how he was feeling, he just about sailed it to the backstop.
When Francona called on Joe Smith to replace Perez, everything shifted for Ellsbury mid-at-bat.
“I’ve never really been in that situation,’’ Ellsbury said. “But I know him coming in in that situation, his mindset’s to throw a strike and try to make it 2-and-2. So I figured be aggressive if I got my pitch.’’
Smith’s first pitch was a sinking fastball that didn’t.
Ellsbury sent it sailing toward the FW Webb sign on the Monster.
The two-run double was Ellsbury’s fourth career walkoff hit. It was also the exclamation point on an all-hands-on-deck comeback that gave the Sox their third straight win over the over a team that had been the hottest in major league baseball over the past month.
“The biggest thing is we didn’t abandon the plan,’’ said Sox manager John Farrell. “Until that 27th out is recorded, this team doesn’t roll over by any means.’’
For seven innings, a Daniel Nava RBI single was the only offense the Sox could muster.
Starter Felix Doubront pushed through six innings, striking out eight but throwing 112 pitches, one shy of his career high.
A first-inning error by Ellsbury on a pop fly to center field put Doubront behind the eight-ball to start, ultimately costing him two runs on a Carlos Santana single. Doubront gave up solo homers to Jason Kipnis in the fifth and Nick Swisher in the sixth and left the Sox in a 4-1 deficit.
But after the Indians added a run in the eighth, Iglesias’s sacrifice fly to left in the bottom half
scored Stephen Drew to make it 5-2.
Dustin Pedroia struck the match in the ninth with a leadoff walk, a six-pitch exercise in patience. Then Ortiz sent a double soaring over Bourn’s head into deep center, sending Pedroia to third.
The Sox got RBI groundouts from Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to make it 5-4. But down to their last out, they were rallying against both the Indians and the odds.
Pinch hitting for Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes went up wanting to see what Perez’s move would be.
“The first two pitches I was going to see if he was going to run at me or run from me,’’ he said.
With no intentions of helping Perez out of the quicksand, Gomes took a five-pitch walk.
Once Drew singled and stole second, it set the stage for Iglesias, Ellsbury, and a comeback that had the Sox storming the field, piling on top of each other in celebration.
“It was exciting,’’ Drew said. “Everybody had great at-bats and really doing everything right. Everybody getting a pitch that they could hit and trying to put a good swing on it.
“You look back at it, that’s the kind of at-bats you need in the late innings when you’re down, and everybody did well.’’