Ninth-inning misfortune leads to Tigers' downfall
Prince's run-in with Fenway faithful on foul popup opens door for Sox in Game 2
BOSTON -- The walk-off single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- the one that capitalized on David Ortiz's game-tying grand slam, evened the American League Championship Series at one game apiece and might have swung the momentum in the Red Sox's favor -- doesn't take place if Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder catches a foul popup.
Some Red Sox fans may get an assist for that.
With Jonny Gomes on second base and none out in the bottom of the ninth at Fenway Park on Sunday night, Saltalamacchia skied a 2-0 changeup into foul territory, between the camera well beyond the first-base dugout and near the on-field tarp. Fielder ranged over to the seats, camped under it momentarily, but saw the ball ricochet off his mitt amid a sea of eager people dressed in red.
"I felt them on me," Fielder said of the fans, "but, you know, it was a tough play. ... There was people around. There was definitely people around."
Nobody appeared to actually make contact with Fielder or the ball, but all the stretched-out hands definitely made it uncomfortable for the Tigers' first baseman.
"That," Saltalamacchia said, "was a big turning point."
One pitch later, starter-turned-temporary-reliever Rick Porcello uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Gomes to settle into third base with none out.
One pitch after that, with the infield in and the margin for error small, Saltalamacchia laced a hard ground ball just by the out-stretched glove of shortstop Jose Iglesias for the walk-off hit.
In other words, Porcello lost a game on two ground balls.
"It's definitely frustrating," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "Obviously we had a couple tough breaks in that inning."
Another one came at the onset, when the Tigers' rookie shortstop may have been a little too ambitious.
Gomes led off the inning with a slow roller in the hole. Iglesias -- the slick-fielding shortstop who replaced Jhonny Peralta for defense with the Tigers leading by four in the bottom of the eighth -- rounded it, fielded it cleanly and made an off balance throw that skipped well by Fielder, allowing Gomes to get into scoring position to lead off the inning.
Afterward, though, Iglesias had no regrets.
"I should've done what I do -- just throw the ball and see what happens," he said. "I thought I had a chance."
Asked if Iglesias should've kept the ball and not tried to make the heroic throw, Fielder said: "That was going to be a tough play. Gomes was running pretty hard. It was going to be a tough one, but you play aggressive and try to make it happen."
A team has held a five-run lead in the postseason 473 times throughout baseball history, and the 2013 Tigers are only the 14th of those to lose.
Before Saltalamacchia's walk-off single, there was Porcello's wild pitch. Before Porcello's wild pitch, there was Fielder's dropped popup. Before Fielder's dropped popup, there was Iglesias' errant throw.
But before all of that, there was the Ortiz homer off Joaquin Benoit that seemed to immediately suck the life out of a Tigers team that at one point had a vice grip on this series.
"You're not happy about it," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said of Ortiz's grand slam, "but at the same time, you still have a game to play. There's been plenty of times where you give up a lead. You still have to play, you still have to find a way to win that game."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.