ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game Two

Red Sox mount improbable comeback, walk off winners in Game 2 to even ALCS at 1-1

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Has the sleeping giant risen from his slumber? The Red Sox led the American League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and (of course) OPS during the regular season, but between Game 1 and the fifth inning of Game 2, they looked more like the Miami Marlins. They were no-hit through eight and two-thirds innings in Game 1 and didn’t get their first hit until the sixth inning in Game 2. It was rough to watch for Sox fans.

Behind 5-1, the Red Sox pushed across one run in the sixth inning on Dustin Pedroia’s RBI double off of the Green Monster, but down four runs, it looked like it was too little, too late, especially with the way Scherzer was pitching.

Scherzer was lifted after seven innings and 108 pitches, giving way to the same bullpen that very nearly preserved Anibal Sanchez’s no-hitter in Game 1. But the combination of Jose Veras, Drew Smyly, Al Alburquerque, and Joaquin Benoit could not halt a Red Sox comeback. David Ortiz struck the big blow against Benoit, sending a game-tying grand slam into the Red Sox bullpen in right-center with two outs.

After Koji Uehara mowed down the Tigers in the top of the ninth, Tigers manager Jim Leyland gave Rick Porcello the gargantuan task of shutting down a reinvigorated Red Sox lineup to get the Tigers into extra innings. He could not do that. Jonny Gomes led off with a ground ball deep in the hole to shortstop Jose Iglesias. Rather than pocket the ball, Iglesias fired the ball to first base, but it skipped wide of Prince Fielder into the stands, allowing Gomes to go to second base with nobody out. Porcello then uncorked a wild pitch, giving Gomes the privilege of casually strolling into third base, giving him plenty of ways to score the winning run with Jarrod Saltalamacchia at the dish. Saltalamacchia went ahead 3-1 against Porcello, then hit a 94 MPH fastball on the ground to left field. Gomes touched home as the Red Sox dugout excitedly poured onto the field in jubilation. Porcello walked off the field to a shellshocked Tiger dugout wondering how they let this one slip away.

To put this in context: Per FanGraphs, the Red Sox had a four percent chance to win when Victorino struck out against Alburquerque for the second out in the eighth inning. They were 53 percent to win after Ortiz’s grand slam. They were 81 percent when Gomes singled and advanced to second on the error, and 93 percent when Gomes reached third base on the wild pitch.

Baseball is a funny game, isn’t it?

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.