The Detroit Tigers will play the Red Sox in Boston this weekend for the first time since losing the 2013 ALCS in six games.
It was an emotionally-draining series that featured four one-run games. And for the Tigers, the eventual defeat came down to one pitch, one swing and one diving outfielder in Game 2 at Fenway Park.
Closer Joaquin Benoit came on in the eighth inning with two out and the bases loaded. Detroit held a 5-1 lead and was four outs away from taking a 2-0 series, heading home to Comerica Park. But David "Big Papi" Ortiz lined Benoit’s first pitch for a game-tying grand slam.
Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter tried in vain to do the near impossible as the screamer headed over the bullpen wall in right-center field. He sprinted to the warning track and jumped above the green wall like a super hero. The only thing missing was the cape — and the ball.
"But you know, I came close to catching that," Hunter said last week. "At first, I lost it in the lights. But I thought it was headed for that spot and ran to it.
"I gave it my all and I came close. I didn’t miss it; I just couldn’t reach it."
Hunter rose toward the ball and leaned back a bit in an attempt to spear what would’ve been one of the greatest a catch ever. But the nine-time Gold Glove Award winner missed it by a couple feet, and Red Sox bullpen catcher Mani Martinez caught it.
Hunter injured his hip after coming down on top of the wall in a prone position on his waist area. He flipped over before crash landing, and the impact briefly knocked his wind out. He was dazed at first, but stayed in the game and made the last out in the top of the ninth.
"All the players told me, ‘Man, that was a hell of an effort,’" Hunter said. "But I would die on the field to get a World Series ring. I exceeded the limit on that play because I wanted to win that game so bad. If you have a true passion for something, that’s what you do.
"This could be my last chance to get to the World Series — that’s what I thought. And I didn’t want to go over that fence, but I did what I had to do."
Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s run-scoring single in the bottom of the ninth won it for the Red Sox and then John Lackey beat Justin Verlander 1-0 in Game 3 at Detroit. The Tigers evened it up with a Game 4 win by Doug Fister, but never had the series lead again after the heart-breaking Game 2 defeat.
Hunter, who turns 39 on July 18, has appeared in the most games (2,123) among active players without reaching the World Series.
But he’s on baseball’s best team (24-12, .667) and appears to have another great chance of reaching his dream this October. The Bovada Web site in Las Vegas gives the Tigers the best odds (13/2) of not only reaching, but also winning the World Series.
The Tigers are coming off a three-game sweep of Orioles in Baltimore, and are 11-4 (.733) on the road and 13-8 (.619) in Detroit.
The additions of left fielder Rajai Davis and second baseman Ian Kinsler to this year’s starting lineup were supposed to make the Tigers more effective at Comerica Park because they can manufacture runs with speed and hitting to the stadium’s vast expanses.
Although the Tigers have played very well at home, they’ve won eight consecutive road games, and both Kinsler and Davis hit important homers in the sweep at Camden Yards.
The Tigers are clicking everywhere they play, and haven’t lost more than two straight games this season. Now they return to Fenway Park, with Max Scherzer taking on Jon Lester in Friday night’s opener, and the scene of last year’s postseason exit.
Hunter will be back in right field, and "Big Papi" will be swinging for the fences. And when one sets in the batter’s box and the other shifts into position, memories will jog back to the play that will keep them intertwined forever.