Momentum, it's been said, is the next day's starting pitcher.
We're about to find out.
With one Sunday night swing—a game-tying grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 2—David Ortiz breathed life into a Boston Red Sox team that had been overmatched and overwhelmed for the first 16 innings of the American League Championship Series.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia finished off the Detroit Tigers in the bottom of the ninth by smacking the game-winning single to score Jonny Gomes and give Boston the 6-5 victory at Fenway, knotting the best-of-seven at 1-1 to avoid exasperating losses in back-to-back nights.
They also went from being dominated to animated:
Up until Ortiz connected and sent the ball flying over the right-field wall in Fenway Park, the lefty slugger had been hitless in seven trips to the plate with four strikeouts in the series. That was pretty much the typical line for each Boston hitter, as Tigers starters Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer had combined to toss 13 innings of two-hit, one-run ball with (get this) 25 strikeouts.
To that point, when Scherzer was lifted before the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox offense—which had been the best in baseball during the regular season and hadn't slowed down at all in the Division Series win over the Tampa Bay Rays—was utterly DOA.
Finally given an opening with Scherzer out, though, Boston managed to take advantage by getting a double, walk and single against the Tigers bullpen to load 'em up for Big Papi.
That's when history happened:
Ortiz has had a flare for the dramatic for, oh, about a decade now. And of course, he has a history of coming up big in key spots throughout his lengthy playoff career—most notably against the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. You remember how that one played out, right? Sunday's grand slam was postseason homer No. 15 and RBI Nos. 51, 52, 53 and 54 in 72 games.
Source: FanGraphs Win probability chart from FanGraphs.
Whether this ALCS will turn out the same way (i.e. a Red Sox win) remains to be seen. For sure, Ortiz and his teammates have to feel like they've gained the momentum that was entirely in the Tigers corner...and that they escaped being on the precipice of a near-impossible scenario.
Imagine the Red Sox—their offense completely shut down through two games in their home park—trying to avoid falling into a 3-0 deficit by winning the first of three straight games in Detroit. Against none other than Justin Verlander.
Therein lies the rub of all this momentum talk. Ortiz may have saved the Red Sox's season, but now the scene shifts to Comerica Park, where all the Tigers get to do is trot out a guy who arguably has been baseball's best pitcher over the past handful of seasons. A guy who has his own impressive postseason résumé. A guy who has hurled 15 scoreless frames with 21 strikeouts this October.
Who has the momentum heading into Game 3 of the ALCS?
In other words, even fresh off David Ortiz's heroics, Tuesday evening's Game 3 could go a lot like Game 1 and nearly all of Game 2 went for Boston.
Certainly, the momentum in this already epic Championship Series seems to have swung with, well, one swing, but it could just as easily shift back if the next swings the Red Sox take are more misses.
If momentum really is the next day's starting pitcher, we are, in fact, about to find out.