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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hunter runs through wall trying to catch Ortiz grand slam; 'This is the postseason. I’d die on the field for this'

BOSTON — One hit the ball ... hard.

The other hit the wall ... harder.

Chasing after former teammate David Ortiz’s line-drive laser, Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter lost the ball in the lights momentarily, then found it ... right before he smashed into the wall separating the Fenway Park outfield from the Red Sox bullpen.

He missed making the catch, barely, pitching head-over-heels into the bullpen.

Along with the ball.

“I was trying my best to stop that ball from going over the fence. I’d sacrifice my body if I had to. I’ve done that my whole career,” a bruised Hunter, who took a moment to collect himself before getting up, told reporters after the game. “This is the postseason. I’d die on the field for this. You’re not going to take me off this field.”

Fenway went nuts, as the Red Sox — who’d been shut out on one hit through the first 15 innings of the American League Championship Series — tied the game at 5-5 on Ortiz’s one eighth-inning swing of the bat. An inning later, they’d win the game, 6-5, in walk-off fashion.

But the moment in time — emblazoned on our memories by the soon-to-be iconic Boston Globe photo of Hunter’s legs in the air, next to a police officer with both arms up in a similar pose — will be what everyone remembers from Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS.

That, and nearly two full games’ worth of domination by the Tigers’ starting pitching resulting in only a split in Boston.

“It’s obvious. I’m pissed off. The one guy you don’t want to beat you, he beat us,” said Hunter, who came up through the Minnesota Twins system with Ortiz, and remains close friends with him to this day. “One of the best hitters in postseason history, and this guy hits the ball out of the park and ties the game up and they ended up coming back and winning. I’m pissed. That’s the way it goes. We’re all pissed. Everybody on this team is pissed off that that happened.”

The Tigers were hurt by the event.

Thank goodness Hunter wasn’t hurt bodily, though.

“He did an unbelievable effort. He really tried. He almost hurt himself trying to catch that ball, but the good thing is he’s OK,” Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit said. “He’s going to be fine, probably sore tomorrow, but he’s going to be OK.”

Hunter was undoubtedly sore for Monday’s early-morning flight home and off day. He probably will be when the series resumes with Game 3 on Tuesday.

Nothing more, though.

“I’m all right. I just tried to give an effort. He hit the ball and it was hit pretty hard, just going up and trying my best to get the ball and ended up flipping over. Just going after it pretty hard. It was all or nothing. Couldn’t believe that happened,” he said. “Just (hit) the top of the wall. I got up high and it flipped me over. I was going full speed back. It just flipped me over and I went over and kind of landed awkward, knocked the wind out of me a little bit.”

He was chasing a ball that Ortiz hit on the first pitch he saw from Benoit, a change-up that he turned on.

“Obviously, with two outs, we’re trying to make good pitches. Threw a first-pitch change-up, but it was a little up, enough for him to put a good swing, get some good wood on it,” catcher Alex Avila said. “To be honest, initially when he hit it, I didn’t think it had enough to get out. Just kept going. Torii got pretty close to it, and I wasn’t sure there. Once the crowd started cheering, then I figured it was gone.”

Just a single out from getting the Tigers out of a bases-loaded jam, the Tigers’ closer instead earned a blown save.

“I wanted it down. Left it middle out and he take a good swing and hit it out. ... He’s a power hitter. At first I didn’t realize he hit it that well but the ball carried out,” Benoit said. “It’s not a secret. I’ve faced him before. I have some success. He has had some success against me and it’s not a secret that he’s a good postseason hitter. ... I like to attack hitters. It’s not the first time I faced him, so I guess we’ve kind of got a history facing each other. He’s had some success. Today was his day. See you next time.”

For as devastating as the moment was, it was still incredibly close to going the other way. Hunter had a line on the ball, and pictures showed he just missed it, perhaps overrunning it by a step.

He, however, has no recollection.

“I have no idea. I actually jumped up. I thought I had a bead on it. Next thing you know, I was falling over the fence. So I don’t know what really happened,” Hunter said, noting that, as line drives usually do, it went into the lights, and he lost sight of it for a moment. “I don’t know. I don’t remember. I went up, I saw it, lost it in the lights for a second, then I saw it, I just tried to give a last effort. Next thing you know I was flipping over the fence.”

Ortiz, who had seen Hunter make a slew of similar catches, wasn’t convinced that he wasn’t going to do it again.

“I tell you, Torii always scare me. I grow up playing with Torii. He’s one of the best outfielder I ever saw in my life. Torii can chase balls out there,” Ortiz said. “This guy went from playing centerfield to right field, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he get a Gold Glove again this year. I saw on the video and the reason why I think he didn’t catch that ball is because the ball take like a left turn when he was going right. And, looked to me like he kind of touched it. But that’s Torii. Torii is a trouper out there, man. And he’s fun to watch.”

He also knew the Tigers — who couldn’t exactly pitch around him with the bases loaded — probably wouldn’t challenge him with a fastball.

“I know they not going to let me beat them with a fastball in that situation. Plus I know that my boy, Benoit, he had a good splitter. And I take my chances in the situation. But that pitch was pretty much hittable. It was on the plate. And put a good swing on it,” Ortiz said.

“You know, I just tried not to do too much, man. I try to put a good swing on the ball. My ideal at‑bat wasn’t to go out and hit a grand slam. We’ve been struggling, when it comes down to put a good swing on the ball. Those guys have been doing an outstanding job hitting the spot and keeping — keeping us off balance. If I was telling you about thinking about hitting a gland slam, I’d be lying to you now. You try to put a good swing on the ball and that happens.”

What happened may have changed the course of the series.

If nothing else, it will be remembered in playoff lore — in both Boston and Detroit — for a long, long time.


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