DETROIT — Matt Thornton has experienced few, if any, moments on the diamond as powerful as the one he witnessed on Sunday night at Fenway Park.
The former White Sox reliever and his Boston Red Sox teammates got an unbelievable surge of energy when David Ortiz blasted a game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series off Detroit Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit. An inning later, the Red Sox capped off a comeback for the ages when Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled in the winning run to give Boston a 6-5 victory and send the series back to Detroit even at a game apiece.
Thornton, who is not part of Boston’s ALCS roster but was in the dugout celebrating, was still in awe after Monday’s workout of what had transpired less than 24 hours earlier as the Red Sox went from being no-hit for 5 2/3 innings by Max Scherzer and facing a 2-0 series deficit with Justin Verlander starting Game 3 to heading to Detroit with a split.
“The emotional swing was huge,” Thornton said. “You have your backs against the wall going (down) 0-2 with three games in Detroit. Played here enough to know their fans are going to impact the game and you see what Verlander has been doing lately. It’s going to be a big challenge, but getting that split was huge, especially the way it happened. It was just fun to be a part of and a pretty impressive experience.”
Boston bench coach Torey Lovullo counts the experience in his all-time top three. In one swing Ortiz turned around fortunes of his team, who up until that point had looked punchless against the Tigers’ starting pitching. Ortiz drilled a first-pitch changeup from Benoit just over the glove of a leaping Torii Hunter, who tumbled headfirst over the bullpen wall as a result.
“It was a pretty surreal moment,” Lovullo said. “To have someone walk up in that situation in a game of that magnitude where we were completely on the mat and almost counted out, to step up and do something that special, was remarkable. What I’ve learned over the course of time is great players do great things at great time and Big Papi fit that mold perfectly.”
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Former White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy has been on the opposite end of this type of moment far too many times for him to keep track.
He suffered a pair of National League Divisional Series losses with the San Diego Padres to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005 and 2006. Peavy also played in Game 163 in 2007, when the Padres lost 9-8 in 13 innings to the Colorado Rockies. And that doesn’t count last season when the White Sox blew a 3 1/2-game lead over the Tigers over the final 2 1/2 weeks of the regular season and missed out on October altogether.
So it’s easy to understand why Peavy was still excited after he experienced the refreshing feeling of a game-changing play that resulted in a victory.
“When you’re in the postseason and you’re playing with everything in the world to win and a chance to go to the World Series and something like that happens for the better of your team, you’re the beneficiary of that and not on the other end, I can’t tell you how much fun, how exciting it is,” Peavy said. “It was nice to be on the winning side of it.”