Xander Bogaerts had a team-defining at-bat in the bottom of the seventh against Detroit’s All-World Max Scherzer.
With Jonny Gomes standing on second base after a Green Monster double and down 1-2 in the count, the camera zoomed in on Bogaerts’ face, and his expression was almost a complete lack of an expression, except for something that almost looked like a smirk. It might just’ve been the way his face naturally rests, but regardless, it displayed an absolute lack of fear or panic at the situation. The Red Sox were losing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning of an American League Championship Series game with one perhaps the best pitcher in the league on the mound, and Boegarts was unmoved.
And he stood his ground, and he took a pitch just off the bottom outside corner for the walk and tossed his bat with the same pride as if he’d just sent one over the Monster. It was thrilling. Most importantly, it was as exciting a walk as I can remember in the past few years, and perhaps could go down as memorable as Kevin Millar’s walk in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. We’ll see, though.
In the meantime, that walk pushed Scherzer out of the game, mercifully for the Red Sox and the fans packed into Fenway Park and bars and living rooms across New England. Drew Smyly came in to face Jacoby Ellsbury, and Ellsbury’s potential double-play ball up the middle two pitches later was muffed by Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias. An error by Iglesias is practically a lunar eclipse at this point. Now the bases are loaded, and Shane Victorino, who’s been hit once in this game and botched a sacrifice bunt attempt earlier, is up. The announcer makes some comment about manager John Farrell not pinch hitting for him. He was 2-for-22 entering that at-bat in this series, but that still seemed ridiculous.
What unfolded was a towering fly ball that cleared the left field wall for a grand slam, Victorino screaming as he rounded the bases, and me, at home, jumping from my desk chair to the couch with my arms in the air screaming. Screaming as loud as I’ve screamed for a baseball game in years.
Victorinio represents a lot of what this team has accomplished and represented this season. Hobbled by injuries, he’s had to occasionally miss games in right field and a bad back and hamstring have led him to temporarily abandon switch-hitting, focusing all his time on the right side of the plate. He gets hit by pitches all the time. He dives for balls in the outfield. He does everything, and he doesn’t let slumps get him down too much. That he got the grand slam in that at-bat is as fitting as anything.
Gomes has meant just as much in a smaller role with the team. He’s helped galvanize the chemistry in the clubhouse, instilled that never-say-die attitude and, as evidenced by where he was standing at the time, he has a penchant for delivering when he’s called upon.
Ellsbury has rebounded from a mostly lost 2012 season with a solid year, leading the American League in stolen bases, but his dribbler up the middle to Iglesias, who began the year as the Red Sox opening day shortstop and was eventually traded in a three-team deal that netted Jake Peavy, brings us full circle.
It was Bogaerts’ presence in AAA Pawtucket that led to Iglesias being deemed expendable by the Red Sox. And it was Bogaerts’ patience at the plate and complete lack of hesitation while staring down an ace like Scherzer that set up Ellsbury’s E6, Victorinio’s grand slam and, ultimately, the Red Sox claiming the American League pennant.
I don’t know what all that means, but I know that I was jumping up and down and screaming like a baby and likely pissing off my neighbors for a while last night because of it. Maybe that’s what this team really means to me.