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Instant Replay: Anatomy of an Epic Comeback

Just when you thought you'd seen everything baseball had to dish out, the ALCS throws you one more curveball.

How else can you explain the most recent epic Red Sox comeback, an 8-7 win capped by J.D. Drew's second clutch hit in as many innings, the second-largest comeback in postseason history and single largest comeback in an elimination game.

Not only did the Rays blow a golden opportunity to wrap up the first trip to the World Series in franchise history, they gave the Red Sox renewed confidence that they can get themselves off the mat on the verge of a knockout, adding to the mystique of a franchise still living off the pride of 3-1 comebacks in 2004 and 2007 a 3-0 comeback in 2004 and a 3-1 rally in 2007.

So how did Boston suddenly erupt for eight runs in three innings? By doing what it hadn't done all series, yet did so well in the ALDS against the Angels: drive men in when there were already two outs in the innings. The turnaround was drastic; before the seventh inning of Game 5, the Red Sox were 3-for 21 with two outs and men in scoring position in the series. From the seventh inning on, Boston was a perfect 5-for-5.

Here's how the Sox knocked in six of their eight runs with two outs:


Seventh Inning:

Grant Balfour vs. Dustin Pedroia, two outs, Jed Lowrie on third, Coco Crisp on first.

-- Pitch One: Balfour throws a 96 mile-per-hour fastball which misses for a ball. 1-0.
-- Pitch Two: Balfour throws another 96 mph heater for another ball. 2-0.
-- Pitch Three: Another 96 mph fastball from Balfour, which Pedroia watches in for a called strike. 2-1.
-- Pitch Four: Balfour gets one extra beat on his fastball, pumping it up to 97 mph, which gets it by Pedroia, who watches it for strike two. 2-2.
-- Pitch Five: Another 96 mph fastball finally draws a swing from Pedroia, who fouls it back to stay alive. 2-2.
-- Pitch Six: A sixth straight fastball from Balfour, again at 96 mph. Pedroia watches it for ball 3. 3-2.
-- Pitch Seven: Guess what this pitch is? That's right, another fastball, at 96. Another foul ball from Pedroia. 3-2.
-- Pitch Eight: A 96 mph Balfour fastball slides across the middle, and Pedroia jumps all over it, lacing a single on a line drive to right field, scoring Lowrie. 7-1 Rays.

Verdict: Pedroia does what the Red Sox hitters did best during the regular season, waiting out a host of Balfour offerings until he saw the one he wanted, drawing eight pitches and eventually hitting an RBI single. It really was the at-bat that set the stage for the comeback.

Grant Balfour vs. David Ortiz, Coco Crisp on second, Dustin Pedroia on first.

-- Pitch One: Balfour sends in a 97 mph fastball on Ortiz, but it misses the strike zone and Ortiz watches it for ball 1. 1-0.
-- Pitch Two: Another 97 mph fastball inside and low to Ortiz. The designated hitter gets under it but crushes it to right, the ball carrying into the right field bleachers for a three-run homer. 7-4 Rays.

Verdict: Ortiz got to watch Pedroia take eight good hacks on Balfour, so he knew what was coming. In the end, this may be the at-bat Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon gets questioned about the most, considering that J.P. Howell, who has frustrated Ortiz to no end, was sitting on the bench when Big Papi's homer sailed out.

Eighth Inning:

Dan Wheeler vs. Coco Crisp, Mark Kotsay on second base, 7-6 Rays.

-- Pitch One: A fastball to Crisp misses the plate, and the centerfielder watches it for Ball 1. 1-0.
-- Pitch Two: Another fastball in the high 80s to Crisp, who watches this one for a strike. 1-1.
-- Pitch Three: Wheeler's upper-80s fastball misses for Ball 2. 2-1.
-- Pitch Four: Wheeler gets a fastball into the low 90s and Crisp takes a hack that gets a piece for a foul ball. 2-2.
-- Pitch Five: Wheeler tosses another fastball that just misses the strike zone, setting up a full count. 3-2.
-- Pitch Six: A Wheeler fastball low draws a swing and foul tip from Crisp. 3-2.
-- Pitch Seven: Again, Wheeler delivers a fastball that Crisp can't quite get around on. 3-2.
-- Pitch Eight: Guess what? Wheeler brings in a fastball, Crisp delivers a foul ball. 3-2.
-- Pitch Nine: Shocker. Wheeler fastball, Crisp foul ball.
-- Pitch Ten: Wheeler finally gives in on location, leaving a fastball over the lower middle of the plate and Crisp takes advantage, lacing a single that scores Kotsay but leads to Crisp being thrown out in a rundown by Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena. The inning is over, but amazingly the Red Sox move into a tie at 7-7.

Verdict: The seminal at-bat of the night, as Crisp battles and battles until getting the pitch he wants, then goes with it for the game-tying hit, base-running blunder aside. A validation of Terry Francona's decision to sit Jacoby Ellsbury for Crisp for a second-straight game.

Ninth Inning:

J.P. Howell vs. J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis on second, Jason Bay on first.

-- Pitch One: Howell starts off with a curveball that misses inside and low, which Drew watches for ball 1. 1-0.
-- Pitch Two: Howell tries another curve which Drew lays off outside the zone for ball 2. 2-0.
-- Pitch Three: Howell switches to a fastball but misses badly, putting himself in a huge hole with ball 3. 3-0.
-- Pitch Four: Drew is taking all the way, a fact made evident when he watches Howell's slower-than-slow changeup sail over the middle of the plate for a meatball of a called strike. 3-1.
-- Pitch Five: With Howell sticking with a changeup for location's sake, Drew is all over it, tattooing the pitch deep to right field and into the bullpen on a hop for a game-winning, walk-off ground-rule double. Red Sox 8, Rays 7.

Verdict: Howell made the mistake of missing on his curveballs, which made his fastball a must-locate pitch. It missed, putting J.D. Drew, the quintessential professional hitter, in the ultimate hitter's count, where he waited on a changeup and got one over the middle for the game-winning hit.

Where the series goes from here fate only knows, but one thing is certain: It took a dramatic U-turn late last night, and it all started to click when the Red Sox remembered how to deliver with two outs in an inning and runners in a position to score.

By Cameron Smith  |  October 17, 2008; 8:55 AM ET
Categories:  Rays , Red Sox  
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Next: Maddon Channels His Inner Phil Jackson

Comments

THEY BLINKED!!!. The Rays had them dead and face down in the bath tub and then like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction the Red Sox rise and pull out a stunning come back the Rays had better win saturday or they will be a part of one of playoff baseball's all time meltdown's,the Ray's just need to relax and forget about last night if they can their youth might serve them well in this situation,a short memory.

Posted by: DARGREGMAG@AOL.COM | October 17, 2008 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Maybe, but there is a lot of work to do still.

Posted by: McDad | October 17, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I've asked people at work to speak softly and turned down the phone and the speakers on my computer. I did not expect to have to have shots after each homer and the winning run last night, so it was kind of like having to sprint at the end of a well-paced marathon. No Tessie or Dirty Water on the juke box at the bar, unfortunately.

Posted by: PTBNL | October 17, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Epic! Hopefully this is the makings of another great comeback.

Posted by: Wally G. Monstah | October 17, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

How many so-called fans who left in the 6th and 7th inning at Fenway park last night now feel like fools and are kicking themselves? And how many have been saying all day at work today that they stayed for the entire game and it was the most exciting thing they saw in the last 3 innings. Hey fans, if you are not fan enough to stay for the entire game, please sell you tickets to someone who will. Any fan who leaves before the game is over is not a true fan of baseball or your team.

Posted by: BRS | October 17, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for this description of three innings it is great. For years I have been trying to explain to friends why baseball is boring... yeah one word slow works. But right now I have a huge visual to demonstrate how BORNING and tedious it can get.

Thank you

Posted by: NYC | October 17, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

To the Insiders - Tito says he will use Beckett in game 6 v. Shields and Lester in game 7 if it goes that far. Could two of you write up pro / con posts arguing whether Lester should be moved up? Recognizing the Sox need both games, which gives them the best chance of doing it? Match your best against theirs? Momentum? Rest? Availability of arms in the bullpen? other factors? You might even embed a vote

Posted by: NR Bob Schieffer | October 17, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

2004 was a 3-0 comeback against the Yankees, who hold the post season record for greatest choke ever.

It looked to me like the great bullpen of Tampa is really tired. If that's the case, if the sox can get to the starting pitchers early they have a chance.

All that youth for TB is great, except that now they have the Sox in their heads. Any weird plays in the next two games and they are going to get tense and make mistakes.

Posted by: Hacksaw | October 17, 2008 11:49 AM | Report abuse

The big hitters have not been as patient this year as they were last against CLE. MLB is applying the pressure to move the games along. Coco and Youk were patient and took those and 10 and 9 pitch AB's Also, you have have Ortiz and Pedroia still a little slumpy. I still have hope.

Posted by: LO | October 17, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

What a fantastic game.

Posted by: eric | October 17, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

This is the second story (AP wrote the other one) I've seen today that gets the Red Sox 2004 comeback wrong, which is either a demonstration of lazy reporting or an evil plot by the Yankees organization to rewrite history.

It's important bacause in 2004 the Red Sox did what no other MLB team has done before or since--rise from the dead from an 0-3 deficit to win four straight and the ALCS and advance to the World Series, where they ended 86 years of frustration with a sweep of the St.Louis Cardinals.

Posted by: J.R. Heckel | October 17, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

and yet, here you are, reading about, not even watching, baseball.
The alternatives must be very borning, indeed.
*****************
Thank you for this description of three innings it is great. For years I have been trying to explain to friends why baseball is boring... yeah one word slow works. But right now I have a huge visual to demonstrate how BORNING and tedious it can get.
Thank you
Posted by: NYC | October 17, 2008 10:47 AM

Posted by: wake me in the borning | October 17, 2008 1:44 PM | Report abuse

J.R.: Thanks for the heads-up. Fixed.

Jon DeNunzio
Sports editor, washingtonpost.com

Posted by: Jon DeNunzio | October 17, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Note that mathematically speaking, it is not inaccurate to say that the comeback in 2004 was from a 3-1 deficit, since the 3-0 superset encompasses 3-0, 3-1, and 3-2 deficits, as well as a 3-3 tie. It's just a bit misleading, but not wrong.

Posted by: Geek (ver. 10/2008) | October 17, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

This is a great breakdown of the at-bats, stuff like this is great and I look forward to more, thanks.

However, I dont' think you can pin the Sox' comeback simply on getting 2-out RBIs where previously they had not. They just hit the ball, period--and they had a lot more relative chances with 2-out RISP as a result also. Simple math:

--21 chances in the first 44 innings
--5 chances in the last 3 innings

They just started getting hits late in the game last night, both to get in scoring position in the first place, and then to knock in the guys who were on base. Sometimes crazy stuff like that happens at Fenway. Can the Sox carry it over to Tampa? We shall see, that's what makes this fun.

Posted by: Coverage is lacking | October 17, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

In the 7th with Ortiz coming up, obviously Maddon's chakras were jammed and he was breathing out of the wrong eyelid.

Posted by: natty bumppo | October 17, 2008 6:06 PM | Report abuse

lol,My best friends linda told me she met a handsome guy at a club called [___"tallhub.com"___] where many sexy singles how like sports there.I'm a white girl, can I meet my handsome guy there? Single guys, will you find your girl there?

Posted by: kener | October 18, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

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