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BOSTON — Tigers manager Jim Leyland does not believe in the concept of momentum with his starting pitching, as if one classic start begets another in an unending line of can-you-top-this? challenges accepted.
No, his playoff rotation is just that good.
The bullpen is another story entirely.
The Tigers better hope momentum does not exist after their stunning 6-5 loss to the Red Sox in Game 2 of the AL championship series Sunday night.
With a late shift in fate that will be remembered among the franchise’s most wrenching October moments, starter Max Scherzer gave the Tigers their latest pitching master stroke before a roster of relievers imploded.
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A sellout crowd of 38,029 at Fenway Park witnessed more unwanted history as the game’s best starting pitching again beat the game’s best hitting, then turned euphoric as David Ortiz hit a game-tying grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning off Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit.
Boston evened the series on a walk-off single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia off Rick Porcello with no outs in the ninth.
“It’s playoff baseball,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “It looked like we had one in hand, and we let one get away, there’s no question about that. Scherzer was terrific, but he was spent. Last night, our bullpen was flawless, and tonight it wasn’t quite as good.”
Labeling this latest extraordinary New England night a game that got away would be an understatement.
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A night after Anibal Sanchez and four relievers struck out 17 and came within two outs of the first combined no-hitter in postseason history, Scherzer continued to prove baseball against the power-armed Tigers is not a contact sport.
Scherzer, the Cy Young Award favorite, carried a no-hitter into sixth and struck out a season-high 13 over seven innings — surpassing Sanchez’s total of 12, which stood for 24 hours as the most by any pitcher against the Red Sox in postseason history.
Parlayed with ace Justin Verlander’s flirtation with an all-zeroes line in Game 5 of the division series in Oakland, the Tigers became the first team to have a no-hitter through at least five innings in three straight postseason games.
They were all set to return to Motown with no intentions of a return trip to Boston. Since the advent of the best-of-seven championship series format in 1985, 20 of the 23 teams in the two leagues to take a 2-0 lead have claimed the series.
Then came the eighth.
Jose Veras allowed a one-out double to Will Middlebrooks before the Tigers’ night unraveled, with Leyland making one ill-fated call to the bullpen after another. Left-hander Drew Smyly walked Jacoby Elsbury, Al Alburquerque struck out Shane Victorino but allowed a single to Dustin Pedroia to load the bases, and Benoit had his first pitch — a changeup — pulled by Ortiz over the right-field wall.
Ortiz’s blast, which sent a bruised but unhurt right fielder Torii Hunter hurdling head over cleats over the wall, was the first game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning or later in postseason history.
“We’re going to play it to the final out,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “David so many times has come up big, whether it’s the regular season, the postseason, and none was bigger than tonight. Down four runs, that’s not a very likely scenario that you come back from. But we kept grinding out at-bats.”
Porcello, the Tigers’ fifth starter, fared no better in the ninth.
Jonny Gomes led off with an infield single, advanced to second on a wild throw to first by shortstop Jose Iglesias, and scurried to third with no outs on a wild pitch by Porcello. Saltalamacchia then sent Fenway into a earth-shaking frenzy with the game-winning single through the left side.
Verlander will start Game 3 for the Tigers on Tuesday at Comerica Park.
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Detroit’s bats pushed across one run in the second inning and exploded to life in the sixth against Boston starter Clay Buchholz. Miguel Cabrera hit a solo homer over the Green Monster, Victor Martinez hit a run-scoring double, and Alex Avila sent a two-run shot 423 feet to right.
The Tigers went ahead 5-0 to effectively ice the game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams with a five-plus run lead in a postseason game were previously 459-14.
And not even those odds did justice to the way Scherzer was pitching.
A Tigers staff that broke the major league record with 1,428 strikeouts this season continued to silence a Boston lineup that led baseball in runs scored, to the point where it at times seemed unfair.
A reporter flatly asked Red Sox manager John Farrell before the game, “How do you expect your offense to get any runs and hits off Max tonight?”
The answer was anyone’s guess. Scherzer struck out seven through three innings and did not allow a hit until Shane Victorino hit a two-out single in the sixth. It was only Boston’s second hit in its last 60-plus plate appearances.
Victorino then scored on a double by Dustin Pedroia. But Scherzer got out of the inning and finished allowing one run on two hits and two walks over seven innings. He threw 108 pitches.
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.