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Top Moments of the Decade #5: The Bullpen Cop

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Number five on the list of moments, but number one on list of photos.

ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game Two

It is now December in the year of our Aceves 2019, which means that everyone who is anyone is doing some sort of content creation to mark the end of the decade. It is horribly unoriginal, which I do not say derisively because I’m doing it too! It’s practically legally obligated! Anyway, I’m going to be counting down the top moments of the decade for the duration of the month. We’ll start with our honorable mentions in which I’ll put down my numbers 11-20 moments of the decade and then after that each of the top ten moments will have their own standalone post. This is all totally subjective (obviously), and it’s also specifically not the best moments. In other words, i’s not all good, though most of it is. Okay, that’s enough, right? I don’t need to explain the concept of a top moments of the decade series, right? You get it.

We all know the magic of the 2013 season at this point. The Marathon bombing early in that season was tragic, but the Red Sox were there to start the process of picking us back up after that, and they didn’t stop all year. There was just so much that year. David Ortiz was still David Ortiz. Jacoby Ellsbury ended his Red Sox career strong. Jon Lester was Jon Lester. Xander Bogaerts debuted. Koji Uehara descended from another planet to dominate like we’d never seen before. Daniel Nava never for the credit he deserved. Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino were huge signings. Jonny Gomes was the best bad defensive player of all time. Clay Buchholz was the best pitcher in the American League for a few months and then gutted it out in October well below 100 percent. So many more things I haven’t mentioned. It was just a special, special year.

Just a year after the Bobby V disaster they had rolled to the division title and strolled into the postseason as the favorites in the American League to win the pennant, albeit by a small margin over the team they’d meet in the ALCS. First, they had to take care of the Rays in the ALDS. They weren’t able to get the sweep, but Boston took that series in four and met head-on with that great, great Tigers team.

We already talked about this series earlier in this top ten, and I mentioned there how good this Tigers team was. It is worth mentioning again, though, because this was the best of that long run of good Tigers teams that just couldn’t get over the top. Clearly, the bullpen was always their fatal flaw — as we saw with the Victorino grand slam and as we’ll see here — but the rest of that roster was loaded. No one would have been surprised if Detroit won this series and eventually moved on to win it all in the World Series.

It didn’t really help that feeling of dread heading into that series when the Red Sox couldn’t do anything at the plate in Game One. Going up against old friend Aníbal Sánchez, the bats just went cold against a hot pitcher. Boston managed just a single hit in that game — and that one came in the ninth — and wasted a huge start from Lester on their own end. Despite allowing just one run, the Red Sox were down 1-0 in this series. If they dropped the next one at home, with Max Scherzer getting the ball for Detroit, it sure felt like things were going to be over.

Sure enough, Detroit struck first in this one, too. Clay Buchholz was not Clay Buchholz in this postseason, and in the second he gave up three straight hits to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the second. He’d gut through a few more before the Tigers got going again in the sixth. After a pair of doubles and a pair of homers, Detroit was suddenly up 5-0 after five and a half innings, and the Red Sox were staring down the barrel of a 2-0 series deficit after two home games. It was the worst-case scenario. The good news is they came back in the bottom of the sixth and got one back on a Dustin Pedroia double.

Still, as we headed into the eighth Boston was still down 5-1. More positively, Scherzer was coming out and that shaky Detroit bullpen was coming in. This is when the magic started. Will Middlebrooks ripped a double with one out. Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk. Pedroia came through with a huge two-out base hit to keep things going, and suddenly the tying run was coming to the plate. The Tigers were going to call in their fourth pitcher of the inning in Joaquin Benoit. Oh, and that tying run? It was David Ortiz.

Obviously, by this point of Ortiz’ career we knew what the deal was. Bases loaded. Two outs. Four-run game. Eighth inning. There was no question he was going to do something here. The only real question was whether it was going to be the thing or just a thing. It was the thing. He didn’t waste any time, either. The first pitch of the at bat was right down the heart of the plate, and Ortiz was all over it. The ball soared off the bat in a way it can really only soar off the bat of David Ortiz in October baseball, and it went up into the bullpen. Torii Hunter was upended so we could only see his legs as his body inverted. Steve Horgan, the cop covering the bullpen, had his arms extended right behind those inverted legs. Sometimes, everything just comes together perfectly. This was one of those times.

So, Ortiz tied the game and the entire tide of the series changed in that moment. Benoit was still in for the ninth while the game was still tied, and the Red Sox went single, error, wild pitch, single. That was that. The series was tied, doom was out of the air, and the Red Sox would obviously go on to win the series and then the whole damn thing. It doesn’t happen without this moment.

“Pictures say a thousand words” is a pretty overused cliche, but there is a whole lot of truth to it. You can read all you want about moments in history, but when you see a picture it really makes the whole thing real. Just like in sports, you can read about any moment, but nothing elicits such a visceral reaction like an iconic picture. There is no more iconic picture from the Red Sox this decade than Hunter’s legs and Horgan’s arms in that Red Sox bullpen. Everyone knows it the instant it’s seen. Hell, Horgan still gets countless requests for pictures in that same pose at Sox games to this day. It is still the background on my phone. It’s rare the stars can align for this kind of moment, but it happened here.