By Ben Walker
Perched on the right-field roof at Fenway Park, Dennis Eckersley could see it all slipping away from the Boston Red Sox.
Heard it, too. No noise, no hope.
“People were just sitting there. I can’t remember it ever being that quiet,” the Hall of Fame pitcher said Friday.
“It’s not like the Rays were scoring runs on ground balls. It was home run after home run after home run. Boom, boom, boom!” the former Red Sox ace and current TBS analyst said over the phone. “It was like, ‘Stop, they’re killing us!”
And then somehow, suddenly, it all changed Thursday night.
Down by seven runs and only seven outs from elimination, the defending World Series champions rallied to close their deficit in the AL championship series to 3-2.
“Pretty magical,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
So while Tampa Bay and Boston took a day off, the baseball world tried to figure out exactly how the Red Sox pulled off the biggest postseason comeback since 1929.
Maybe it began with Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon going to his bullpen too quickly. Or Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon coming in early. Might’ve been slugger David Ortiz trying to bunt. Or perhaps Dustin Pedroia fouling off pitch after tough pitch.
Especially amazed were all those people who either turned off their TVs or switched the channel to the “Saturday Night Live” segment and never came back. Millions of ’em.
Here’s what they missed: Trailing 7-0 with two outs in the seventh inning and a runner on, the Red Sox came back to win 8-7 on J.D. Drew’s two-out single in the ninth.
Pulled in the fifth, Boston pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was among those who missed seeing the rally. He knew better than to toy with superstition.
“I was in the clubhouse, the reason being I was there throughout the seventh and eighth when we were getting those runs and I could see the momentum shifting toward us,” he said through a translator. “And I couldn’t move from the one spot I was in.”
Sitting with Manny Delcarmen on a locker-room couch, Matsuzaka had a word of advice for the reliever.
“They told me not to move,” Delcarmen said.
Whatever, it worked.
A throwing error by All-Star rookie third baseman Evan Longoria set up the final jolt, Drew’s game-winning drive off J.P Howell that bounced into the Tampa Bay bullpen.
As the ball sailed over right fielder Gabe Gross shortly after midnight and the crowd erupted, Howell trudged to the dugout, hat in hand.
“I can’t think of a better word than deflating,” Gross said during a workout Friday. “You battle and you battle and your teammates battle, and then that moment it’s over. You take it for what it’s worth. You hate it.”
Pedroia’s single it the seventh made it 7-1 and Ortiz followed with a three-run homer. Drew hit a two-run shot in the eighth and Coco Crisp singled home the tying run later in the inning.
By then, the old ballpark was shaking.
“It was pretty much the most amazing thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Crisp said.
Funny thing, Rays first baseman Carlos Pena felt nearly the same way.
“I know it sounds weird. That game, to me, was one of the best in ALCS history,” he said. “Everyone here was happy we were a part of it. We got the short end of the stick, but it was definitely a cool thing to see how energized that place was.”
“We were laughing at it. We thought it was the craziest thing ever,” he said.
Pena homered earlier in the game and by the middle innings, with Scott Kazmir mowing down the Red Sox and fans falling silent, there even were some boos for Ortiz after Big Papi made out.
“This is looking pretty bleak,” Drew recalled thinking.
Down in Philadelphia, there was particular interest. The Phillies open the World Series next Wednesday night in either Fenway Park or Tropicana Field.
“We all thought it was going to be Tampa,” Phillies first-base coach Davey Lopes said Friday, “but they didn’t give up.”
The Red Sox will try to even the series Saturday night when Josh Beckett starts against James Shields at Tampa Bay. The Rays need only one win this weekend to complete their own remarkable worst-to-first trip to the World Series.
Maddon was adamant that his team would forget — or try, anyway — what went wrong.
“The more you dwell on something in a negative sense, the more it can permeate your whole existence, so we’re not going to do that,” he said.
But Boston was more than glad to harp on what happened, the greatest postseason surge since the Philadelphia Athletics overcame an eight-run deficit and beat the Chicago Cubs 10-8 in the 1929 World Series.
The Red Sox are certainly no strangers to comebacks.
In 2004, they became the only major league team to rally from a 3-0 postseason deficit by stunning the New York Yankees in the ALCS. Last year, they overcame a 3-1 hole against Cleveland in the ALCS.
They were on the wrong side in 1986 with the Bill Buckner game. But with Boston still buzzing Friday, that all seemed like ancient history.
“The only way it could’ve been more dramatic is if it had been a deciding game. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Eckersley said. “Who has?”