BOSTON — Bedlam at Fenway Park. Heartbreak in the Motor City.
With another late-innings grand slam that sent tremors through New England at their expense, the Tigers are headed home for the winter after falling 5-2 to the Red Sox in Game 6 of the AL championship series Saturday night.
Shane Victorino sent the game-winning shot screaming over the Green Monster in the seventh inning to turn a one-run Tigers lead into the punctuation mark on the Red Sox’s last-place-to-the-pennant transformation.
The Red Sox are headed to their first World Series since 2007. Detroit was left to wonder how a season that began with championship expectations came crashing to its wrenching conclusion.
"The difference, really, if you look at the series, they hit a couple big bombs," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We just didn’t quite do that. They had two or three really timely home runs."
With 21-game winner and Cy Young favorite Max Scherzer giving Detroit its latest stalwart start, the Tigers went ahead 2-1 in the sixth inning and took the lead into the fateful seventh.
Yet after Scherzer defied trouble all night, the Tigers’ fortune finally turned. The right-hander allowed a lead-off double to Jonny Gomes and a disputed one-out walk to Xander Bogaerts — the low-and-outside full-count pitch appeared a strike — that ended his night at 110 pitches.
With runners on first and second, shortstop Jose Iglesias — a player who starts specifically for his defense — mishandled a sharp grounder by Jacoby Ellsbury as he attempted to make a quick flip to second base. A potential inning-ending double play instead loaded the bases with one out.
"I think we could have turned it," Leyland said. "It was hit pretty hard. But that’s part of the game. I have no problem with that."
Victorino followed with the slam off Jose Veras on an 0-2 curveball.
It was the second late-inning series-shifting grand slam — David Ortiz delivered his game-tying backbreaker in Game 2 — and the latest classic moment in a series that featured four one-run games.
"This series had a little bit of everything," said Sox manager John Farrell, whose team will face the St. Louis Cardinals in World Series beginning Wednesday. "Dramatic comeback wins. Unbelievable starting pitching, especially on their part. You couldn’t have asked for a better series."
The Tigers may put up an argument. They will be good next year, maybe even the preseason favorites again to win the AL. Jhonny Peralta, the all-star shortstop cast off to left field after serving his 50-game doping suspension, and closer Joaquin Benoit are their only free agents of note.
With a franchise-record $152.9 million payroll and a team stocked with stars in the heart of their prime, there was a sense the window for their first title since 1984 was never propped more wide open than this year.
"A tough series," Leyland said. "But I want to congratulate the Boston Red Sox. They deserved to be representatives. They beat us and I wish them the best."
Scherzer in all allowed three runs — two earned — on four hits and struck out eight over 6 1/3 innings, though it appeared it would be his night.
Scherzer, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in Game 2, found trouble in the third, walking the first two hitters. Yet by either the hard laws of physics or a divine gust, he somehow remained unharmed atop his high wire.
After Victorino popped up a bunt, Dustin Pedroia pulled a skyscraping shot deep over the Green Monster down the left-field line. It was so close to a three-run homer that the ball’s shadow was visible on the foul pole and Scherzer launched into anti-Fisk histrionics trying to coax it foul.
Instead, it was strike one, foul by a foot.
Scherzer faced the same situation in the sixth when the first two hitters reached and advanced on a one-out wild pitch. In succession, Ortiz flied out weakly, Mike Napoli struck out, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia popped out to shortstop.
The Tigers rallied with two runs off Boston starter Clay Buchholz in the sixth.
Like in Game 2, when the Tigers tagged Buchholz for four runs in the sixth inning, they again enjoyed success the third time through the order. Torii Hunter walked and Miguel Cabrera singled to open the inning before Farrell — decidedly less patient in an elimination game — turned to the bullpen.
This time, though, Farrell’s second straight aggressive hook of his starting pitcher did not pay off. Reliever Franklin Morales walked Prince Fielder on four pitches to load the bases and Victor Martinez followed with a two-run single..
The Tigers, though, missed a chance to build their cushion when Jhonny Peralta grounded into a bizarre double play. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia tagged Martinez between first and second, then spotted Fielder stopped halfway between third base and home. Fielder belly flopped back to third base, but never reached the bag and was tagged out. Alex Avila then struck out, and a big inning was doused just as it began.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.