The game of the year was punctuated with perhaps the quote of the year.
"In a word," said Red Sox manager John Farrell upon arriving for his postgame media session Thursday night, "magical."
In a season of comebacks -- with 11 of the Red Sox' 37 home wins this season now coming in walkoff fashion -- this was the pinnacle. According to MLB.com, not once since 1940 had a Sox team managed to win a game in which it trailed by as many as six runs in the eighth inning. And before that, you would have to stretch all the way to 1911.
But the Sox did it, wiping out a six-run deficit with a Shane Victorino solo homer in the eighth and then with the most memorable ninth inning since the 2007 'Mother's Day Miracle' win over the Orioles, in which the Sox scored six in the final frame to claim a 6-5 win.
This time it was a six-run ninth that featured six hits, two walks, 10 batters to the plate and just one out. What it resulted in was an 8-7 Red Sox win over the Mariners, giving Farrell's team a full game lead over the idle Rays.
But what truly gave the experience that otherworldly-type of feel were the intricacies that resided behind the box score. Step by step. Moment by moment. The construction of this comeback was still hard for the participants to fathom moments after it all transpired.
"The leadoff walk kind of gives a little bit of a breath," Farrell said. "Then just watching things unfold, a guy with great stuff …"
But even before Seattle closer Tom Wilhelmsen kicked off the home half of the ninth with a free pass to Daniel Nava, the wheels had been set in motion courtesy reliever Drake Britton and bullpen coach Brian Abraham.
"We're sitting there and I turned to Abe and said, 'Let's go out and score six,' " Britton remembered. "He said, 'Nah, let's score seven.' "
First came Nava's four-pitch walk (the first time he had faced Wilhelmsen since notching a game-winning, 10th-inning single off the righty in Seattle, July 10), and then a single by Ryan Lavarnway.
For Lavarnway, it was his second hit of the night, which was a welcome sight considering the backup catcher had been forced to go up against a collection of starters (Bartolo Colon, Matt Moore, David Price, Felix Hernandez) in his last four appearances with a combined ERA of 2.71.
"Righty on righty, that's the one at-bat that stood out to me," said Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino. "Once he got that hit, it was like, 'OK, what's going to happen.' To me, that was the big at-bat."
Then came the first run of the inning, courtesy Brock Holt's opposite-field double down the left-field line. The third baseman had watched Wilhelmsen struggle with his command during the previous pair of at-bats, and also knew that he was going to get his fair share of high-90s fastballs. So when two of the first three pitches were changeups, Holt knew that pitch No. 4 most likely would be a heater.
In the dugout, it was at this moment Farrell started up his conversation with injured catcher David Ross. "I was just saying, 'We need Brock to get out in front and hook one down in the corner,' " the manager recounted. "And then he ends slicing one down into the corner. Unbelievable."
But that's just where the conversation started. After the hit, the thoughts really started flowing.
"I said, 'You know what? About four or five years ago we were in here on Mother's Day against Baltimore, down five, and somehow we found a way to score six in what became the Mother's Day Miracle,'" said Farrell, remembering his talk with Ross. "I said, 'Who knows? Maybe it will happen again.' Little, by little …"
"He was talking me through the whole thing," Ross said. "First he said, 'How about a double from Holt right here,' and two pitches later, there it is. Then he started about the Mother's Day Miracle. He was talking through it, as calm as could be."
But the reality remained: The Red Sox still were down by four runs with the Mariners closer on the mound. But then Jacoby Ellsbury loaded the bases with a walk, and that's when things truly started getting strange.
Seattle interim manager Robby Thomspon followed up the Ellsbury free pass by going out to take out Wilhelmsen, a move that wasn't totally unexpected from the Red Sox side of things despite the four-run difference.
"We knew he had the capabilities of being erratic in the strike zone, and this environment is tough for any pitcher to come into," said Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo. "We thought they might go to Perez and weren't sure how far they would go with Wilhelmsen."
And they did go with Perez, but not on purpose.
While walking toward the mound, Thompson raised his left arm before switching to his right in an effort to bring in Yoervis Medina. WIth Shane Victorino (who was traditionally better against lefties despite an identical .282 batting average from both sides of the plate entering the night) and Dustin Pedroia coming up, bringing in the right-hander made sense.
But third base umpire Gary Darling ruled that since Thompson had raised his left arm first, Seattle would have to bring in lefty reliever Oliver Perez, whose numbers against both Victorino (6-for-16) and Pedroia (2-for-4) weren't favorable for the veteran reliever.
"I wasn’t going to the left-hander," he said. "I thought once I pointed to the bullpen, I had a chance to go to who I wanted. By the time I went to tap on the arm, he’d already turned around and went to the left-hander. Something learned for me. That won’t happen again, and I’ll double check and see what that ruling is. They’re probably right, but I was not going to the lefty. I was basically motioning to the pen and I was hoping to go to my right arm and tap on it."
Farrell, who had seen Medina warm up prior to Perez and fully expected the righty in that situation, was somewhat surprised Darling stuck to the letter of the law.
"If he changes it," the Sox manager said, "I'm not going to argue about it."
For Thomson and the Mariners, it was too late. Both Victorino and Pedroia singled, producing three more runs while drawing the Sox within one. It was on Pedroia's hit that Red Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield faced his only real difficult decision of the frame.
The ball had gone into left field, where Seattle outfielder Dustin Ackley ranged over to retrieve it. But because of the score and situation, Ackley showed just enough caution to allow Butterfield for a quick change of mind.
"Initially I was going to put my hands up, but [Ackley] was moving tentatively," Butterfield explained. "I started to put my hands up to stop [Ellsbury], but [Ackley] was moving too tentatively down the line for my liking, so I went from putting my hands up to waving him in. If it was a closer situation I'm sure he would have been quicker to the ball, but he was moving tentatively because it wasn't the tying or go-ahead run. He was moving cautious, which wasn't such a bad thing on his behalf."
Now with Ortiz up, the Red Sox trailing by a run and runners on first and second, Farrell was forced to consider his only real alteration in the frame. If Ortiz was to reach, he would be replaced by a pinch-runner. That was it. Everything else was taking care of itself.
"It was time to sit back and be cheerleaders and really enjoy what these guys were ready to do," Lovullo said. "It was just a good moment because there was a focus and intensity. No one was shutting down. Inside of our dugout that was the most impressive thing."
By the time Ortiz stepped to the plate, the rituals and superstitions were already put in place. Pitcher Jon Lester -- who was jokingly begging Ortiz to bunt during the designated hitter's at-bat -- helped police the dugout, yelling, "Same seats. Same thoughts."
Holt, for instance, had raced into the dugout and immediately taken his post near the steps so he could get a good vantage point. Other than congratulatory high-fives, he wasn't moving from that spot. He wasn't alone. Taking it the extreme was Lavarnway, who, after warming up pitcher Steven Wright underneath the dugout in case the pitcher was needed in the next inning, insisted the knuckleballer stay underneath for an entire at-bat and not venture up to the dugout.
"He was like, 'You have to wait here,'" Wright said. "I just watched it on the TV down there."
After an Ortiz strikeout (accounting for the Red Sox' only out in the inning), Thomson finally was able to bring in Medina. The righty would be facing Jonny Gomes.
When asked later what Gomes knew about Medina, the players quickly answered, "Nothing."
"The whole thing was a surprise," the outfielder said. "I don't face righties. I don't face righties out of the bullpen. I've never faced him before. I don't have two different swings, but obviously left-handers and right-handers are two totally different style of pitchers and different contact zones and I have grooved myself toward left-handers. That slider on the outer half is tough."
Gomes didn't like the idea of putting the game on the line by swinging at one of Medina's sliders. So he focused on the fastball, which was a good thing for the Red Sox considering that's all the righty hitter got. The end result? A game-tying single on his at-bat's seventh pitch.
"I try and eliminate things in my head to get that process up," he said. "I knew he had a slider. If he threw me three sliders for a strike, I was done. So I eliminated his slider. I eliminated the inner half because I didn't think he would want me pull it 310 feet for a walk-off homer. So I sit dead-red fastball on the outer half.
"He's thrown me six pitches, so all six have been fastballs, so I could definitely eliminate a slider. If he did throw me a slider I would have taken it, strike three, you can't win them all."
And, just for he record, even with the righty pitching, there were no thoughts of pinch-hitting for Gomes.
"Late in games, whether it's right-handed or left-handed, Jonny has proven he's going to put up a very good at-bat," Farrell said.
Then, after Gomes, came another full count, this time to Stephen Drew. But for some reason, Medina went away from his bread-and-butter pitch and missed on a changeup, walking the shortstop.
"I think everybody on the dugout thought, 'What is going on here? Why would you throw your third pitch and not challenge him?," Farrell said. "It was just one thing after the next. It just kept building."
Until Nava's second at-bat of the inning ended it all.
The outfielder jumped all over Medina's first pitch -- a 92 mph fastball -- launching it over center fielder Michael Saunders' head. Considering Nava is a .394 hitter when putting the first pitch in play, it was a sound strategy.
All that was left was to make good on a promise to himself.
"[Drew] was saying how he didn't get credit for a double during his walkoff [Wednesday night], so all I was thinking was that I had to get to second base," said Nava, who was credited with a single. "Watch it again. I did get there."
As did the Red Sox.
"All that keeps running through my mind is that line from the movie 'Independence Day,' " Lavarnway said, " 'Never give up! Never surrender!' "