The Boston Red Sox were all set to break out the brooms on Thursday in their attempt to sweep a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners. With Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on top of his game, however, it seemed the Sox would be forced to settle for just a series win.
It turns out the night wasn't over quite yet.
Hernandez handed the ball over to his bullpen after seven stellar innings and a 7-1 lead. Reliever Charlie Furbush was the first come on in the bottom of the eighth and gave up a leadoff home run to Shane Victorino.
He escaped from the inning unscathed otherwise, and the Mariners still had a five-run cushion at 7-2 heading into the ninth inning.
That's when the real magic started. Or, if you're a Mariners fan, that's when the nightmare started.
Tom Wilhelmsen came on to close things out for the M's, but he promptly walked Daniel Nava to start the inning then gave up a single and double, making the score 7-3. Wilhelmsen then walked Jacoby Ellsbury to load the bases, bringing the tying run to the plate.
Acting Mariners manager Robby Thompson then intended to call right-hander Medina in to face the switch-hitting Victorino, but a major gaffe forced him to go with Oliver Perez instead.
Acting manager Robby Thompson said he wanted to bring in RH Medina to replace Wilhelmsen, but umps said he signaled w/left hand.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) August 2, 2013
Big mistake. Victorino delivered a two-run single, narrowing Seattle's lead to 7-5.
Thompson stayed with Perez to face Pedroia, who delivered another run-scoring single. All of sudden it was 7-6 and there were still no outs with runners on first and second.
Perez finally got the first out by striking out David Ortiz, and Thompson then brought in Medina to face the right-handed Jonny Gomes.
It seemed that on this night, no combination of Mariners bullpen arms was going to work. After a questionable call on a 2-2 pitch, Gomes delivered a line drive up the middle to score Victorino and knot it at 7-7. After a walk to Stephen Drew, Nava was back up once again with the bases loaded:
Red Sox manager John Farrell expressed after the game exactly how he felt about the comeback win:
"In a word — magical," said #RedSox manager John Farrell.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) August 2, 2013
It's hard to disagree with that. And according to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, walk-offs have actually been pretty common this season at Fenway Park:
#RedSox have 37 wins at home, 11 of them walk-offs— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) August 2, 2013
ESPN chimed in that the Sox are the kings of walk-offs as well:
Daniel Nava's 1st career walk-off hit gave the Red Sox their MLB-leading 11th walk-off win of the season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 2, 2013
As for interim manager Thompson, he disputed the interpretation of his hand signal that led to the bullpen gaffe:
Robby Thompson says he merely motioned to the bullpen with his left hand but tapped his right arm and wanted to use Medina all the way— Geoff Baker (@gbakermariners) August 2, 2013
No matter what was interpreted, this is a loss that will sting for the Mariners but could be a sign of things to come for the Red Sox.
No question that winning nearly a third of their games at home via a walk-off is pretty special, but doing it in the way they achieved it on Thursday definitely qualifies a tremendous season highlight. And for Boston, they'll hope that kind of magic carries on through late October.