BOSTON -- The guy at the next spot on the press room table was ready to write in a deadline hurry. His notebook computer was open. His papers were assembled in a semi-neat pile. The baseball game had been finished for no more than 30 seconds. Hearts still pumped fast. Noise still hung in the air above Fenway Park. The Boston Red Sox players still celebrated late Sunday night somewhere out near second base. He was ready to distill all of this, the moment, in 1000 words or less.
"How do you spell Lazarus?" he asked out loud.
How do you describe the sequence of events, the melodramatic plot twist -- David Ortiz, GRAND SLAM HOME RUN WITH TWO OUTS IN THE BOTTOM OF THE EIGHTH INNING -- that lifted the hometown team to a 6-5 win to tie in their best-of-seven American League Championship Series with the Detroit Tigers at one game apiece? How do you show how low the Red Sox fortunes had been before that moment? How do you then describe the flip, the change, the euphoric moment that combined communal hope and prayer and one mighty swing of a baseball bat?
"L-a-z-a-r-u-s," a man said. "I think."
This was a start.
* * *
"You can go well if you stay calm," Mr. Ortiz, Big Papi, hero of the moment, explained in a short treatise in how to approach a pressure situation. "You can go bad when you try to overdo something."
The going bad part was where the Sox had resided until that eighth inning. The pressure had arrived and they had cracked. For two straight nights.
In all nine innings of a 1-0 loss to the Tigers on Saturday night and through the previous seven innings on Sunday, everyone in the lineup had been guilty of trying to overdo. The results were not just terrible, they were historically terrible. The best offense in baseball during the regular season had been held to a single ninth-inning single on Saturday. On Sunday, for five and two-thirds innings, it was no-hit again. No team in post-season play ever had been held hitless through five innings for two straight games. Add in a ridiculous number of strikeouts, 17 on Saturday night and 13 more in the first seven innings against the deft pitches of Max Scherzer, and the Sox looked helpless.
The Tigers had a 5-1 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth that looked insurmountable, untouchable, flat-out bulletproof. They were going to win the game easily, sweep the weekend in Boston and return home where they would start their best pitcher, Justin Verlander in Game 3. Verlander hasn't given up an earned run since Jimmy Carter was President. This could and would become a very fast series.
"You could see everybody trying to do too much," Ortiz said. "I was trying to do too much. Even today, those first couple of at-bats, I wasn't swinging right. I just had to calm down."
The one hope was recent history. No team had dominated the Red Sox like this for long during this entire worst-to-first comeback season. Whenever situations had turned bleak, somebody would get something started. A walk would be followed by a hit, by another hit, click and click, and the offense would recalibrate and pull out some amazing results. The Red Sox had 11 walk-off wins during the regular season. They had an impressive string of come-from-behind wins. They thrived on comebacks.
"I've been on some teams, they came across a situation like we were in tonight, it just would have taken the wind out of their sails," outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "That's a wrap. Not this team. Not the way we're built. We're just living and dying, pitch to pitch. We know something is going to happen."
The first good thing that happened here was that Scherzer was done for the night after seven innings, after throwing his 106 frustrating pitches. This brought the Tigers bullpen into the game. The bullpen had been impressive on Saturday night, four hurlers in a row, but this was a different night. The same cast of characters found different results.
For starters, Will Middlebrooks touched Jose Veras, first out of the pen, for a one-out double. Jacoby Ellsbury, next batter, worked a walk from Smyly, the lefty brought in to face the lefty. Runners on first and second. Then Al Alburquerque, next pitcher, struck out Shane Victorino for two outs. This brought Dustin Pedroia to the plate.
The Fenway crowd, quiet for a second straight night, now recognized some possibilities. If Pedroia could get on base, well, that would fill the bases and Ortiz would hit with those bases full and 38,089 active imaginations went to work. Most of these people already had watched a startling televised comeback by the New Patriots, Tom Brady's 17-yard pass with five seconds left to subdue the New Orleans Saints, 30-27. That game had finished about an hour before this game started. Couldn't that kind of stuff happen here, too?
"We watched the end of that game in the clubhouse, too," Jonny Gomes said. "We knew what happened."
So Pedroia singled and, yes, the bases were loaded. So Big Papi came to the plate, his nickname repeated, Pa-pee, Pa-pee, as a cheer, a chant, a prayer, a hope. So, doing the mental mathematics, everyone in the place was thinking about the grand slam that could be, the grand slam that would tie the game. Everyone except the man with the bat in his hand.
"If I told you I went up there thinking about hitting a grand slam, I'd be lying to you," Ortiz said. "I just wanted to get the bat on the ball."
The pitcher now was closer Joaquin Benoit, a 36-year-old right hander from the Dominican Republic, not a stranger to Ortiz. The Red Sox designated hitter had studied Benoit all over again in the past 24 hours, had looked at scouting reports and past performances. He had come up with an educated guess. Joaquin would start him off with a change-up.
"He wouldn't throw me a fastball in this situation," Ortiz said. "You have to have a plan. You can just go up there and swing at anything. That was what we had been doing, everyone. I had been doing it, too. Not now. I had a plan."
The first pitch was a change-up.
It wasn't one of his home run swings, hacking upwards at the ball, sending it in a long arc to the bleachers while he drops his bat, stares and congratulates himself for the wonderful work he has done. This was a line drive swing -- get the bat on the ball -- that sent a no-trajectory rocket off toward the Red Sox bullpen on a straight line. This was a three-iron into the wind, not a driver.
The ball and Tigers rightfielder Torii Hunter, both traveling fast, seemed destined to intersect somewhere on the warning track. Would the ball clear the fence? Would Hunter snatch it from the air? All was in doubt.
Hunter leaped, had a chance at catching the ball, but saw it turn toward the right at the end. (The three-iron was a slight hook.) The ball passed his glove and landed, whomp, right in the glove of Red Sox bullpen catcher Mani Martinez. The catcher, who was warming up a pitcher, never even left his crouch.
He heard the crowd, said he saw the ball from the corner of eye, turned and caught it. He almost also caught Hunter. The Tigers outfielder hit the bullpen fence in full stride, was flipped into the air, and landed, whomp, at Martinez's feet.
"I've never seen anything like that," the catcher said.
The game was tied. The shackles were loosened.
Martinez said he kept the baseball that he caught. After the Red Sox scored a run in the ninth, Jarrod Saltalamacchia singling home Gomes for the win, the bullpen catcher returned to the clubhouse and presented it to Ortiz.
"You hope that this home run can get the ball rolling in the right direction," Big Papi said. "This is what you work for."
End of night.