One foot. Maybe less.
That's how close Jonny Gomes came to being the guy who defined the Red Sox' seventh-inning comeback. His fly ball leading off the frame against starter Max Scherzer had all the makings of the ultimate heroic act -- until it banged off the wall just inches from going over it. It would have tied the game at 2-2 and let Fenway Park breathe a whole lot easier.
But all Gomes had was his double. Then, a few moments later, the Red Sox had their moment.
"I think it sums it all up because a solo home run would have been a little too selfish for how the 2013 Sox work," said Gomes after his team's 5-2, American League Championship Series-clinching win Saturday night. "A double, a couple of huge at-bats, and there you go."
There you go.
And Shane Victorino was the one that went.
Fast-forward to the at-bat that altered Red Sox history -- the one on which Victorino cleared that left-field wall for yet another song-inducing grand slam -- and you have the punctuation for the seventh-inning story.
But there was so much that drifted in and around Victorino's moment, the one when the outfielder rounded the bases while pointing to his wife and children in the stands, thumping his chest and offering tribute to his home state of Hawaii with the shaka (or "hang loose") hand gesture.
"It's just pure joy watching him run the bases," said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. "It's just pure joy."
It did start with Gomes, the hitter who had looked helpless against Scherzer for two straight games, yet was sent to the plate by manager John Farrell instead of a lefty option (such as Daniel Nava). Four pitches in, with the count having run to 1-2, the righty hitter went all-in.
"If you've been watching any of these games you know I haven't had much success against Max," he said. "I've always said, 'Just keep me in there and I'm going to make a baseball play.' I'm always going to find a way to take a run off the board, and I'm going to find a way to put a run on the board. I'm going to find a way to touch the plate. I couldn't look any more silly at the plate, so I just sold out on the slider and he threw one."
Stephen Drew wasn't able to move Gomes to third via sacrifice, but the baserunner ultimately got there after a Xander Bogaerts walk and Jacoby Ellsbury's potential double-play grounder up the middle, which Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias couldn't handle. Bases loaded. Enter Victorino.
The process of uncovering Victorino's milestone moment was set in motion well before Game 6 had even begun. The Red Sox' advance scouting crew had warned the outfielder that he better be ready for a steady dose of curveballs from a variety of Detroit pitchers, but particularly reliever Jose Veras.
Sure enough, leading into seventh-inning at-bat, Victorino had seen 18 curveballs, 13 of which resulted in strikes. And Veras -- the pitcher the Tigers called upon to face the player who had committed to hitting exclusively from the right side -- led the charge, using the curve on nine of his 11 offerings to the Red Sox' No. 2 hitter.
Twice in the series, Veras struck out Victorino on curves.
It's why as the showdown drew closer, the outfielder called upon assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez to help him prepare in the batting cage underneath the home team's dugout.
"Before that at-bat he went into the cage and settled down," Rodriguez said. "He just wanted to work on staying back because he knew he was going to get a lot of curveballs. He really wanted to overexaggerate the balls getting to him. He knew he's been jumping out in front and not recognizing pitches. The last couple of days he has really focused on letting the ball travel."
The scouting report was no secret, as principal owner John Henry soon found out.
"I'm not superstitious, but it didn't seem like things were going our way, so I decided to change scenery," Henry explained. "So I headed over to baseball [operations' private box]. I went in there because I figured they were the only people that were suffering more than I was.
"We're up there and Shane steps to the plate and they said, 'He's looking curveball.' They knew what he should be hitting, and he knew what he should be hitting. Look curveball. The first pitch is a curveball strike, and we're all like, 'Ohhh!' Then the second. But then then the third pitch is a curveball strike … over the wall. We were so stunned we did a terrible job of high-fiving each other. It was just stunning."
Yet there was something missing during the celebration in the baseball ops box: the head of the group, Cherington.
The GM had started watching the game in the private suite, but he found himself in an uncomfortable state of uneasiness throughout many of those early innings. So he left, adjourning to his office.
"I was in my office, trying to make sure my anxiety wouldn't affect others," Cherington said. "We've just been moving around. When you're watching every pitch in games like this, what happens is you know how much it means to our players and the people in our clubhouse. And we know how much passion they have for winning these games, and we want it for them. Those of us in the front office, we're kind of just along for the ride at this point. When the games start, we're rooting so hard, we're fans, and every pitch is an event. So some parts of the games are hard to watch. We enjoy grand slams and the last three outs when Koji [Uehara] is on the mound, and that's about it.
"So I moved around a bit and ended up in my office and it was a good place to be."
The transition to the work space wasn't out of the ordinary for Cherington.
"If things are going poorly, I'll move anywhere I can until it starts going better," he said. "If it's going well, I'll stick in the same place. I was in the office, and obviously I was going to stay there after Victorino hit the grand slam, so I stayed there for the rest of the game."
Cherington wasn't alone in his fear of movement.
Up in the Red Sox' clubhouse, the two pitchers who suffered through what had been a seemingly decisive two-run sixth inning -- Clay Buchholz and Franklin Morales -- sat and watched. The pair joined injured reliever Andrew Miller on the big black couch, watching the frame unfold.
"I saw Jonny hit the double and was like, 'I can't go outside now.' I was sitting there with Franklin and Andrew [Miller]," Buchholz said. "After he hit the grand slam we just took off running. We just jumped up and ran out."
According to Morales -- the reliever who came on for Buchholz and promptly surrendered a walk to Prince Fielder and two-run single off the bat of Victor Martinez -- one of the pitchers might have leaped a bit higher than the other two.
"The first guy who jumped was me," the lefty said. "I felt happy for the whole team because I missed one pitch. Victor got me. Baseball is like that, you never know when something can happen so quick."
The reactions were similar.
In the dugout:
"We were sitting on our lucky buckets that got us runs against [Anibal] Sanchez, and we stuck with them tonight," said Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava, who was sidling up to teammate Ryan Lavarnway in the host's dugout. "The ball takes off and we nearly jumped to the moon.
"I think it was a feeling of expectancy. We were waiting for something to happen. We were waiting for that one moment to get going. My guess was he wasn’t surprised he threw a two-strike curveball."
In the bullpen:
"Me and Jonny Lester were both down in the bullpen just seeing how everything was going to play out," said Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy. "It was exciting. It’s as excited as I’ve ever been, I can tell you that. I don’t know what else has gotten me that excited. I’ve never wanted anything in my life as bad as I’ve wanted to win a world championship with this group of guys."
On the field:
"It was awesome," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who was in the on-deck circle at the time of Victorino's home run. "[Veras'] curveball is so tough against righties. Vic will get out there and hook balls. I remember thinking, ‘If he keeps his hands back a little bit he can drive it,’ and he did. It was unbelievable."
In the third-base coaching box:
"I didn’t know if he quite got it," said coach Brian Butterfield. "Jonny and I were talking, figuring out he was going to hit one hard somewhere. It turned out good. He’s been big all year long. [Bogaerts] came over and reviewed all responsibilities, making sure we didn’t get too aggressive on a head-high line-drive at second base because we had a lot of big boys coming up after Vic."
On the basepaths:
"Bogie ran up on me and I was like, ‘You have to get back and tag in case he catches it.’ I guess he had a better angle than I did," Gomes said. "It was special."
(Butterfield was well aware of the aggressive move by Bogaerts, saying, "I was ready to cut in front of Bogie. We didn't want him passing Jonny.")
On the mound:
"It was the pitch that we wanted," Veras said. "He had been struggling, 1-for-22 the whole series with the offspeed. We made the offspeed and he made the adjustment.
"We wanted to bounce the ball. It was down, but I was supposed to bounce the ball. Breaking ball in the dirt. He made the adjustment. Today was the big hit for him. Sometimes you have to tip your hat. He dived a little bit and he hit it."
And, of course, from the batter's box:
"The first thought was get enough air to tie the game," Victorino said. "And then I thought this could get up over the wall. All the emotions went through my mind.
"No disrespect, and I would never be one of those guys, but I was definitely excited running around the bases, the pounding in my chest. I've been that kind of guy. I don't like when teams show that kind of emotion. And I hope they understand it was a special moment for me, for the city. And no disrespect, again, the guys across the way, we played the Tigers. I respect those guys like no other. The staff, everybody. It was a special moment. And like I said, no disrespect to them, but this was a battle to the end."
A battle, a moment, Victorino and the Red Sox would ultimately win … and a city would never forget.