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Guessing Games

I wasn’t watching the Tigers and Red Sox too closely Sunday night at first, but I did guess that Max Scherzer wasn’t going to throw a no-hitter despite carrying one into the sixth. Given the oodles of precedent at our disposal (Don Larsen, Roy Halladay and nobody else), not a tough guess to tender.

I figured, once the Tigers were up 5-0, that they were in pretty good shape to go up 2-0 in the series, but then I saw a comment on Twitter that suggested that with Scherzer striking out Sox at such a rapid pace, Detroit might as well be up 500-0. I suddenly had a weirdly foreboding feeling on behalf of the Tigers (for whom I’m nominally rooting since they’re the team without Shane Victorino). It’s been my experience that when a team seems completely in command of a given game but the scoreboard indicates they are not wholly out of reach of their opponent, the game isn’t over. Call it a wild guess.

I took in the sight of Scherzer accepting handshakes from his teammates when the seventh was over, his night apparently done with a 5-1 lead. He must’ve thrown more pitches than usual, I thought (I wasn’t paying a ton of attention by then), and Jim Leyland must be saving him for later in the ALCS. Winning this one first seemed paramount, but Leyland’s a universally acclaimed manager and he knows his pitchers better than I do. Maybe this wouldn’t matter; you never can tell if it will or if it won’t [1]. I’d say I guessed wrong.

Not in front of the TV while the bottom of the eighth came together, I was surprised when I returned to realize the Red Sox had a genuine threat going. The bases were loaded and David Ortiz was coming up. I didn’t know which pitchers the Tigers’ bullpen carousel had dropped off on the Fenway mound or comprehended whether those were good or bad moves, but I was aware enough to think, hey, he could tie it up on one swing, as the cliché goes, but how likely is that? I should’ve guessed that it was very likely.

Now that it was 5-5 on Big Papi’s grand slam, I kind of figured this might go deep into the night if only because every playoff game at Fenway Park goes deep into the night. Nope, the iron-gloved Tigers couldn’t have been more helpful in helping the Red Sox score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. If I was conspiratorially minded, I would have guessed Detroit was on the take at Fox’s behest to make these playoffs more entertaining to a broader audience. That, by the way, wouldn’t be a serious guess…I don’t think.

Given how dramatically the Red Sox roared from behind, nobody wasn’t willing to call this game an all-time classic [2]and declare it would be remembered forever. I’ll go with the classic part but I’m going to guess it gets forgotten more quickly than you’d guess. There are so many rounds and so many games and so many teams that the second game of a League Championship Series — no matter that it includes a phenomenal pitching performance trumped by a breathtaking comeback — is bound to get a little lost over time. Red Sox fans won’t forget it. Tigers fans won’t forget it. The rest of us are on our own. Just consider the note that emerged once Ortiz’s blast cleared the fence and eluded Torii Hunter’s tumbling reach [3]. His grand slam was the third in the history of postseason play to tie a game, joining Ron Cey’s from the 1977 NLCS and Vladimir Guerrero’s from the 2004 ALDS. I ask you: when was the last time you heard anybody invoke those as classic and unforgettable? I don’t approve of popular amnesia, it just happens.

First guess. Second guess. Lucky guess. Baseball’s the ultimate guessing game. That’s what makes it so much fun to play along with at home.