Saltalamacchia fights for game-winning hit

Saltalamacchia fights for game-winning hit
October 14, 2013, 2:15 am
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BOSTON – Like most of the Red Sox batters, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had been struggling in the first two games of the ALCS against the Tigers. Out of the starting lineup in Game 1, he pinch-hit late in the game and struck out.
 
He was 0-for-3 against Game 2 starter Max Scherzer. But, managing to avoid being one of the Red Sox’ 15 strikeout victims in the game, Saltalamacchia put the ball in play in each of his at-bats against the Cy Young candidate – perhaps an omen of what was to come later in the game.
 
As in Game 1, the Red Sox were again handcuffed by a Detroit starter in Game 2, held hitless until Shane Victorino’s two-out single in the sixth – making their late-inning comeback as improbable as it was outstanding.
 
But, after David Ortiz’s stunning grand slam off Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit on the first pitch with two outs in the eighth, Saltalamacchia completed the comeback in the ninth.
 
With Rick Porcello – he of the 4.41 career postseason ERA – entering for the Tigers in the ninth, Jonny Gomes led off with an infield single, taking second on an error by the normally sure handed Jose Iglesias. With Saltalamacchia batting, Porcello unleashed a wild pitch, with Gomes taking third.
 
It was a scenario that had become so familiar in the regular season. The Red Sox had 11 walk-off wins with 22 wins decided in their last at-bats. They added their first walkoff in this ALCS in Game 2.
 
On a 3-and-1 fastball, Saltalamacchia laced a ground ball between Iglesias and third baseman Miguel Cabrera into left field, giving the Sox the win in what was virtually a must-win game.
 
“Well, my approach changed,” Saltalamacchia said of his at-bat. “At first, man on second, I was trying to get him over. After [Porcello] threw that first pitch down and away, I figured that’s how they were going to pitch me. I tried bunting earlier in the year against them and it didn’t’ work out so well. I figured I’d go ahead and swing the bat. And I felt good.
 
“Once the fastball happened, the approach changed a little bit, trying to hit the ball up the middle and take your chance.”
 
Before that, though, Saltalamacchia sent a pop foul down the first base line. Fielder attempted a catch up against the wall, vying with fans for the ball. But, the ball caromed off the first baseman’s glove, giving Saltalamacchia another shot.
 
“I was hoping so,” Saltalamacchia said. “I was trying to get the ball over, hit it over the right side of the field. And when I did pop it up I kind of was hopping it was getting out. And then as I saw him getting close to [the tarp] I didn’t think he was going to catch it. And I think if you watch the replay I was fist pumping when he did drop it. That’s a big difference with men on third and one out and men on second and still one out. That was a big turning point, I think.”
 
And once he got to second base, Gomes was intent on scoring.
 
“I’m doing anything I can,” he said. “Absolutely anything I can to get to that plate. If Prince caught that [pop foul] ball I would have been on third. I tagged up. I’m doing anything.”
 
But Gomes had gone 0-for-3 with three strikeouts before his ninth-inning single. He very easily could have been taken out for a pinch-hitter at that point.
 
“We had one more move on the bench with [Daniel] Nava,” manager John Farrell said. “And we were holding him back for Will [Middlebrooks], if that spot came up. In those pressure moments we've seen ‑‑ there's complete trust in Jonny. And against Porcello we knew it was going to be sink or slider, and felt Jonny was equipped to handle that. He did some broken ground ball in 5 and 6 hole that Iggy probably makes an extended play and we catch a break for the error. But late in the game, Jonny's going to keep things under control at the plate.”
 
On a team that’s made a habit out of those late-inning wins, this one was different.
 
“Obviously the magnitude and what’s on the line it’s a little bit different,” Gomes said. “Probably a smidge more important than the ones in the regular season. But we needed those wins in the regular season to prep ourselves for situations like this.
 
“I’m glad we don’t have to see what it’d have been like down 2-nothing.”