Red Sox Rewind: Shane Victorino’s Grand Slam

The count? 0-2.

Outs? One.

The score? 2-1 Detroit.

The setting? Fenway Park for Game 6 of the 2013 American League Championship Series.

Those old enough to remember where they were on Oct. 19, 2013, are well aware of how they reacted to Shane Victorino’s heroic eighth-inning grand slam off of Tigers right-hander Jose Veras.

Two players who ended up both being out of the major leagues by the end of 2015 found themselves squaring off in one of the most memorable moments of the 21st century.

How did we get there, though? There is a lot that went into that one swing that needs to be remembered as well, and that’s what we’re going to be taking a look at in this Red Sox rewind.

Setting the Stage

Based on the offseason moves ahead of the 2013 season, one can infer that Ben Cherington and co. had a major emphasis on team chemistry, cost-efficiency, and general likability. As a result, they signed the likes of Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, and Stephen Drew. None of those guys were superstars (three of them were coming off of subpar seasons in 2012) but they all found themselves on the 2013 Red Sox for a combined total of $41 million.

As far as Victorino is concerned, he was going to be somewhere other than Philadelphia on an Opening Day roster for the first time since 2005. He began his career in San Diego and finished 2012 with the Dodgers, but for the better part of nine seasons, he’d been acclimated to the City of Brotherly Love.

At the time of his signing in Boston, Victorino was coming off the worst season of his career to that point. He played 154 games between the Phillies and Dodgers (second-highest of his career), but he’d slashed just .255/.321/.383 with an fWAR of 2.6 (career-worst), an OPS+ of 91 (tied for career-worst), and a wRC+ of 94 (career-worst). In reflection, committing to the Hawaiian-born outfielder for three years seemed like a steep commitment, especially for $13 million per season.

While 2014 and 2015 didn’t go particularly well for the outfielder, who slashed .258/.312/.346 with an 81 wRC+, that doesn’t matter when talking about the memorable October night in 2013.

On a team filled with players who seemed to outperform their projections, Victorino flourished in his 122 games. In 532 plate appearances, he slashed .294/.351/.451 with a 119 wRC+ for a Red Sox team that won 97 games and the American League East crown. Victorino even led the American League with reaching base via hit-by-pitch 18 times, besting teammate Daniel Nava by three.

The Red Sox took care of the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS in four games, giving them a date with the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. After five games, Boston had a 3-2 series lead but trailed Game 6 by a score of 2-1 at the seventh-inning stretch.

After Jonny Gomes doubled, Stephen Drew struck out, Xander Bogaerts walked, and Jacoby Ellsbury reached on an error, up came Victorino with a chance to turn the game on its ear.

The Opponent

Something that often plagued Dave Dombrowski’s teams in Detroit was a lackluster bullpen. That was no exception in 2013.

Through July 28, the Tigers ranked 23rd in the league in bullpen ERA (4.01) and were 19th in limiting hard contact (29.7 percent). As a result, it prompted them to trade minor leaguers Danry Vazquez and David Paulino to the Houston Astros for right-hander Jose Veras.

At the time, Veras had a 2.93 ERA, a FIP of 3.40, and 19 saves. He’d slide in and provide a little more depth for Detroit’s bridge to Joaquin Benoit, and was gifted a seemingly impossible task in Game 6: getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation against a Red Sox team that had been predicated on timely hitting.

The first batter he was tasked with facing: Shane Victorino.

The At-Bat

In case you didn’t know before, Shane Victorino was primarily a switch-hitter his entire career. He was even signed as a switch-hitter by the Red Sox the previous winter and had 229 plate appearances as a left-hander against right-handing pitching in 2013.

In those 229 plate appearances, a left-handed Victorino slashed .274/.317/.389 with a 90 wRC+. Those were rather pedestrian numbers, to say the least. In fact, just three of his 15 home runs came from the left side of the plate.

However, it wasn’t until nagging back, hamstring, and knee injuries made it uncomfortable for Victorino to swing as a left-hander.

He converted to a full-time right-hander in the second half of that season, where he posted an .896 OPS and a 148 wRC+ against right-handed pitching.

But back to the at-bat in question.

Victorino was given a steady diet of curveballs to get into an 0-2 count, and he didn’t look particularly great on either pitch. You didn’t need a crystal ball to see what Veras was going to next; all he needed to do was execute.

The pitch came in, only this time it was hung. Victorino, along with a max-capacity Fenway crowd, knew what was coming.

The rest was history.


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