BOSTON -- The greatest comeback in modern playoff history began with a simple walk to the plate.
David Ortiz walked to the plate, and just like that, there was a feeling in Fenway Park that hadn't been there in three Rays-dominated days.
"Hope," Sean Casey said. "He came up and you're thinking, 'There's still hope here.' And then, boom, he crushed that ball, and it was like, 'We've got a lot of hope.'
"We've got a lot of hope."
They do now. From seven runs down with seven outs to go, the Red Sox turned around a game they eventually won 8-7 on J.D. Drew's two-out single in the ninth. From three games to one down, the Red Sox might well have turned around a series, too.
They still trailed 7-4 after Ortiz's three-run home run in the seventh, but that was the moment this game turned. They still trail three games to two heading back to Florida for Game 6 on Saturday, but there's an unmistakable feeling that this series has now turned, too.
"If we can get Game 6, it's anybody's series," Casey said.
Maybe it already is. Maybe it already was, as soon as that Ortiz home run sailed out of the park.
Or as soon as he walked to the plate.
"Like I say, I'm part of the soul of this ballclub," Ortiz would say later.
He is, but he was also nearly hitless at that point, 1-for-17 in the series without an RBI.
Perfect. He was nearly hitless. His team was nearly hopeless.
|'I'm part of the soul of this ballclub,' David Ortiz says after his crucial homer. (Getty Images)|
Yes, they trailed the Yankees three games to none, and trailed again in the ninth inning of Game 4. But they were only one run down -- one run with three outs to go.
This was seven runs, with seven outs to go.
They couldn't be thinking about '04, or '07. If anything, they were already thinking of '09.
And Ortiz was thinking that this whole miserable series was going to fall on him.
"A lot of the blame has been on Papi," he said. "Because Papi hasn't been hitting."
Papi is still hitting only .105. But Papi also just saved Boston's season.
He gave them life with his home run in the seventh. Drew made it a one-run game with his home run in the eighth. Coco Crisp tied the score with his single -- at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat -- later in the eighth.
Then Kevin Youkilis got a two-out infield hit in the ninth, at the end of another 10-pitch at-bat. Youkilis made it to second because of an error, and he scored on Drew's single.
The Red Sox celebrated, just as the Rays were supposed to be celebrating. The Rays were stunned, more than the Red Sox have ever been stunned in this crazy week.
Perhaps it was Rays manager Joe Maddon's fault, because he allowed right-hander Grant Balfour to pitch to Ortiz, rather than going to one of his three left-handed relievers. Perhaps one of the lefties should have faced Drew in eighth, when Maddon stuck with Dan Wheeler.
And perhaps it won't matter in the end, because the Rays are going home to friendly Tropicana Field, where Saturday they'll hand the ball to James Shields, "Big Game James," their best starting pitcher.
If the Rays win that night, or even if they win Game 7 on Sunday, we'll remember Game 5 as nothing more than one of the great baseball games ever seen. We'll remember it as the second-biggest playoff comeback ever, although it's hard to say this wasn't better than what the Philadelphia A's did by overcoming an eight-run, seventh-inning Cubs lead in Game 4 of the 1929 World Series.
The A's already led that World Series, even before the comeback. That wasn't a season-saver.
This one was.
"I've never seen a group so happy to get on a plane at 1:30 in the morning in my life," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
He still needs a good game from Josh Beckett, who was so bad in Game 2 (and also in Game 3 against the Angels). Beckett is still the Red Sox starter in Game 6, Francona said after this one.
He still needs some way to keep the Rays from scoring. Tampa Bay has outscored Boston 38-23 in this ALCS, and the Rays' 13 home runs are already an ALCS record.
"I think we've hit fine," Crisp said. "But those guys have been so out of this world. Not just on fire -- out of this world -- where us scoring four runs a game just isn't enough."
It was the Ortiz home run that got the Red Sox to four runs Thursday. And no, it wasn't enough, not all by itself.
They still needed more. But the moment Ortiz hit that home run, everyone in the ballpark had the feeling that the Red Sox might just get more, that they might just get enough.
And even before that, even when Ortiz was just walking to the plate, you could feel something the Red Sox hadn't felt all week.
Right then, they had hope.
A little at first, and then a lot.
And now, as Game 5 fades away, they're left with quite a bit.