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:
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.
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.
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.
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