David Ortiz has elevated the fan experience to a new level. He has taken New England sports fans to a place where no others have been. He has put them in a state of mind where they expect a game-winning home run. And he has delivered.
Does anyone know how hard this is? A home run, John Updike once reminded us, cannot be hit at will. And yet it seems that Ortiz can dial up a game-winning blast every time.
Big Papi did it again last night. With the Sox trailing, 8-6, in the bottom of the ninth, with two men aboard, and a 2-and-0 count, Ortiz launched another heat-seeking game-winner into the center-field bleachers. This time the victim was Cleveland closer Fausto Carmona. Dr. Fausto never knew what hit him. But he sure knew who hit him.
And so we saw it again. The Ortiz tour-de-bases while the visitors walked off the diamond with their heads down. The patented helmet flip as Ortiz approached the gang of teammates surrounding home plate. ``Dirty Water." Then ``Tessie." Then the interview with Tina Cervasio on the big board. Then 36,387 pouring into the streets singing songs and slapping one another on the back.
There never has been anything like it in Boston sports. There never has been anyone like David Ortiz in our town. Sure, there were a couple of players with more talent, but no one ever has had a prolonged stretch like this. Not Ted. Not Russ. Not Bobby. Not Larry. Not Tom. They did other things, and won (in some cases) a lot more rings. But no player in Boston sports history has sent home this many people with electrifying moments of greatness.
This simply does not happen in baseball. Ortiz has turned major league baseball into Wiffle ball games you'd play with makeshift rules regarding rooftops, clotheslines, and summer winds. Big Papi is an action superhero come to life. He is a cartoon figure who jumps off the screen and gets it done in real life in real time. He is the mythical Joe Hardy with no apparent time limit on his powers.
Fenway fans were plotting the walkoff win before the inning started. Alex Cora was scheduled to lead off, and if two of the first three batters reached base, Ortiz would come to the plate representing the winning run. That's all that was needed, and that, of course, is what happened. Cora cracked a single to left, and Kevin Youkilis, the Greek God of Walks, drew a hard-earned bases on balls. Manager Terry Francona knows enough not to bunt in that situation. It most definitely would take the bat our of Ortiz's hands. So Mark Loretta popped up, and fans were almost glad to see him make an out. It enhanced the Ortiz drama.
We have reached the point in hardball history where teams are going to have to start walking Ortiz even if if means loading the bases to pitch to the modern Jimmie Foxx (Manny Ramírez). This was Ortiz's third walkoff homer this year, his seventh regular-season walkoff homer with the Red Sox, and the eighth regular-season walkoff homer of his career. He has two postseason walkoff homers. He has 15 regular-season walkoff hits and five walkoff hits in the last 51 days. He has 37 homers and 105 RBIs after 104 games. He hit 14 homers in July with 35 RBIs. He is the American League MVP at this hour. He is a player you might want to think about intentionally walking even if the bases are loaded.
It is surreal, particularly when you remind yourself that this man was released by the Minnesota Twins after the 2002 season. He came to the Red Sox trailing Jeremy Giambi on the depth chart and he was on the bench at the start of his first season in Boston. He asked to be traded when his teammates started calling him ``Juan Pierre" because he had fewer homers than the flyweight outfielder. Then came the lightning bolt when he started channeling Yaz 1967. And he has not stopped.
``I don't know, man," Ortiz said after last night's game-winner. ``Basically, you gotta do what you gotta do. The guy had to make a pitch at the time. You don't want to get the bases loaded and have a hitter like Manny coming up afterwards. So, like I say, you just gotta be ready. I just try to put a good swing on the ball. That's about it."
Do not expect him to describe how he does it. If he could describe it, he probably couldn't do it.
A reporter asked Francona about comparisons to Michael Jordan. Tito managed Jordan when His Airness tried baseball in the Arizona Fall League.
``I don't think David can dunk," said Francona. ``But I know what you're saying."
We all know what he's saying. Ortiz, who also homered to lead off the third last night, is playing baseball at a level never before seen. He has made the incredibly rare feat seem routine. Maybe it was like this when Ruth played. No one else. Again, there are players with greater numbers and players who have won more rings, but try to come up with a 3 1/2-half year stretch of late-game deliveries like this. Doesn't exist.
And so on a night when the Red Sox failed to make a deal as the trade deadline expired -- a night when they were about to sink below the Yankees for the first time since June 8 -- Big Papi delivered again.
He has spoiled us forever. There never has been anything like this. Don't expect to ever see it again.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.