BOSTON -- They had missed one home run when the ball went foul by perhaps three inches, another when it hit off the very top of the wall. On a night of wasted opportunities -- on both sides -- it appeared the Red Sox were going to waste the biggest opportunity of all: The chance to close out the Tigers, win the pennant, and advance to the World Series.
But there's a reason Bob Marley sings, "Don't worry / 'Bout a thing / Every little thing's / Gonna be all right" when Shane Victorino comes to the plate.
Moments after the normally golden-handed Jose Iglesias booted a potential inning-ending double-play grounder, which would have gotten the Tigers to the eighth with a 2-1 lead, Victorino stepped to the plate. With Marley's words still echoing in the air, Victorino launched a grand-slam home run into the Monster Seats, putting the Red Sox in front, 5-2, and leaving them six defensive outs from the 13th American League pennant in franchise history and a berth in the World Series for the third time in the last 10 seasons.
Craig Breslow and -- who else? -- Koji Uehara recorded those six outs with ease, and the Sox nailed down the championship with the victory that enabled them to win the best-of-seven series, 4-2.
The World Series begins Wednesday at Fenway against a familar foe: The St. Louis Cardinals, to whom the Sox lost in the 1946 and 1967 World Series, but whom they beat in 2004.
"It's been a special ride, and we're still going," said Dustin Pedroia. "We're not going to stop. We know what our goal is. We want to win the World Series."
Victorino moved them closer Saturday night.
"It's one of those moments you live for," Victorino said. “It was a special moment. It's been a special year, we battled. And good moments like this, you cherish it.”
Prior to Victorino's slam, both teams had fumbled opportunities to take control of the game.
The Sox missed a chance to jump out to a substantial early lead in the third inning by about three inches . . . the approximate distance that a rocket down the left-field line by Pedroia traveled to the left of the foul pole with two men on. Given the reprieve, Tiger starter Max Scherzer took advantage by getting Pedroia to ground into an inning-ending double play.
But the Sox were able to break the scoreless tie two innings later, and once again Xander Bogaerts and Jacoby Ellsbury were the keys. With two outs, Bogaerts doubled off the center-field wall and Ellsbury drove him home with a single to right, as Bogaerts slid home just ahead of a strong throw by Torii Hunter.
Then it was the Tigers' turn to miss a chance -- two chances, actually -- to jump out to a substantial lead.
Hunter led off the top of the sixth with a walk and Miguel Cabrera drilled a single to left, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Even though Clay Buchholz had pitched well to that point -- 5 innings, 4 outs, 0 runs, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts, only 85 pitches -- his velocity was dipping, so Farrell went to the pen, calling on left-hander Franklin Morales to pitch to the left-handed-hitting Prince Fielder and the switch-hitting Victor Martinez.
The move backfield . . . big time. Morales walked Fielder on four pitches, loading the bases, then allowed a single high off the wall to Martinez that scored Hunter and Cabrera, moved Fielder to third, and gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
But with two runs in, runners on first and third, no outs, and a rookie right-hander (Brandon Workman) on the mounds, the Tigers couldn't add to the lead.
Jhonny Peralta hit into one of the strangest double plays you'll ever see: He tapped a grounder to second that was fielded by Pedroia, who chased down Martinez and tagged him for the first out. Pedroia then threw to the plate as Fielder, after an initial pause, attempted to lumber home; Fielder stopped and tried to retreat to third, but catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia actually ran him down and tagged him for the second out.
Workman then struck out Alex Avila, keeping the score at 2-1.
The Sox wasted a second-and-third, one-out chance in the sixth as Mike Napoli struck out and Saltalamacchia popped out, and in their next at-bat the Tigers again came up empty despite a golden opportunity to add to their lead.
With one out, Austin Jackson singled to center; soon, however, he was erased from the basepaths as Workman picked him off first for the second out.
But two fielding blunders by Workman -- when he deflected a routine grounder to second by Iglesias into no-man's land, allowing the Tiger shortstop to reach first, and then dropping the ball after fielding a bunt attempt by Hunter -- put runners on first and second for Cabrera. So, of course, Farrell turned to his Cabrera-killer: Junichi Tazawa.
Tazawa had struck out Cabrera in a key spot in Game 3 and also got him out at a crucial moment of Game 5, but this time Cabrera hit one up the middle that appeared to be headed to center field. But shortstop Stephen Drew, ranging far to his left, made a spectacular diving stop and threw out Cabrera at first, ending the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, the Sox -- at last -- made the Tigers pay.
Jonny Gomes started with a blast to left that hit off the very top of the wall, inches away from a game-tying home run. But when Drew failed to advance him to third by striking out, it seemed like the Sox were wasting another chance.
Bogaerts, however, worked a walked and Iglesias then fumbled a grounder up the middle by Ellsbury, a grounder that could have been a double play. That loaded the bases with one out.
In came Jose Veras, the third Detroit pitcher of the inning. Up stepped Victorino.
Into the Monster Seats went the ball.
"I jumped on home plate and I was like a kid in a candy store," said Gomes, who scored from third base on the homer.
Victorino has "come up big a number of times this season, [but] none bigger [than this]," Farrell said. "[It was probably] the last thing we're thinking of, that he's going to hit a ball out of the ballpark."
From then on, it was just a case of the bullpen holding the lead . . . something it had been doing all series.
"The way I would sum it up is, that I thought their starters were good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought their bullpen was great."
And they were great again in Game 6, even though Uehara admitted to a case of nerves as he worked for the final three outs.
"To tell you the truth, I almost threw up," he said jokingly through a translator.
Once he struck out Iglesias for the final out, though, the Sox could begin -- for a moment -- to reflect on the journey from 93 losses in 2012 to the American League pennant in 2013.
"Since the first day of spring training, there wasn't one person more important than the next," said Gomes. "We're all pulling in the same direction."
"The one thing that I like the most about this year, what makes it more special, is that nobody thought we were going to go this far," said David Ortiz.
Now they'll try to go one step further.