Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Larry Bird was king of the world, the Celtics played a midseason Sunday afternoon game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Bird got into a mano-a-mano with Clyde Drexler and won the game on an impossible, over-the backboard, buzzer-beater from the deepest left corner of the parquet floor as he fell into the first row of press seating. I believe he was caught by Ch. 5’s Mike Dowling.
After the game, WBZ radio’s intrepid Jonny Miller, a reporter whom Bird respected immensely, asked Bird, “Larry, did you want the ball at the end of the game?’’
“No, Jonny,’’ Bird said chuckling sarcastically. “That’s why you saw me out there hiding behind the bench.’’
Fast forward almost three decades and we have The Ballad Of Cody Ross, playing out in front of us at Fenway this week. Ross hit a pair of three-run homers against the first-place White Sox Wednesday, and won Thursday night’s game with a walkoff, three-run blast into the Monster Seats in the ninth.
Answering questions (some asked by the still-ubiquitous Miller), sounding Bird-like after his homer delivered the 3-1 win, Ross said, “I want to be the guy up every time in that situation. I just like that pressure and just being there in the moment. You can’t compare it when you come through and you’re the hero. There’s no better feeling.’’
Ross came to the plate with two aboard and one out with the Sox trailing, 1-0. This looked like a typical Red Sox heartbreaker. They were going to lose, 1-0, one day after winning, 10-1. It was a game that would reinforce their well-deserved image as front-runners who fail in the clutch.
But Ross changed things. He worked the count to 1-and-1, then crushed a cookie delivered by White Sox closer Addison Reed. There was no doubt about it. It was in the books before it was in the Monster Seats. Alfredo Aceves (happy to finally win a game) doused Ross with electric-blue Gatorade and Nick Punto separated Ross from his No. 7 (we miss you, J.D. Drew) Red Sox jersey.
“It felt like a bunch of piranhas jumping on me and attacking me,’’ said Ross. “Punto was staring right at me with an evil look in his eye. He just started yanking at my jersey. He was famous for that in St. Louis. They call him the shredder. I got to meet the shredder tonight.’’
With three three-run homers in two nights, Ross was not eager to lose the lucky shirt.
“I’ll gladly get shredded again tomorrow,’’ he said. “But it’ll be the same jersey in my mind.’’
“It’s crazy for somebody not to be nervous and not feel the pressure,’’ said Clay Buchholz, who emboldened the Sox hopes with eight innings of stellar pitching. “He’s been huge for us all year.’’
The 31-year-old Ross is a lifetime .262. hitter who hit five postseason home runs for the 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants. He was characterized as “cheerful” by Sox CEO Larry Lucchino in last week’s letter to season ticket-holders, but has not been 100 percent cheerful with manager Bobby Valentine all season. The Sox signed him in late January and he’s been a potent righthanded bat (.274, 16 homers) in this uneven Sox campaign.
Ross has a 3-year-old daughter, Haven, and an impossibly adorable 5-year old son, Hudson, who is at the ballpark with dad almost every day.
Ross’s walkoff gave the Sox three out of four games against Chicago, and five out of seven since the abysmal stretch of bad baseball that preceded the All-Star break. The Red Sox are a whopping three games over .500 with 69 games left and look perfectly capable of getting into the playoffs thanks to the contrived new system that rewards mediocrity and sustains interest. It simply doesn’t matter that the Red Sox are 10 games behind the Yankees. They can play October baseball and in October . . . anything can happen.
“We’ve gotten some timely hits and that’s what you feed off,’’ said Ross. “I hope we can keep rolling.’’
They would do well with 25 guys like Cody Ross . . . guys who want the ball at the end of the game.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.