Brilliant playoff afterglow follows Ortiz into camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Four months later, it's still hard to grasp. There's no way to fully explain or comprehend what came over David Ortiz Arias in October of 2004. It was as if he'd struck some Faustian bargain with the baseball gods. Ortiz became the Walkoff Wonder, better than Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, or Reggie Jackson.
In Greater Boston, we always thought of Carl Yastrzemski as the ultimate warrior of baseball's final month. Yaz didn't get many playoff opportunities, but he put up big numbers when it counted in 1967 and '75. He even homered off the unhittable Ron Guidry in the one-game AL East playoff with the Yankees in 1978.
But the great Yaz never did what Ortiz did in 2004. No one ever did. From Oct. 8-23, Ortiz enjoyed the greatest stretch of clutch hitting in postseason baseball history. He was Most Valuable Player of the AL Championship Series against the Yankees. He tied a record by knocking in 19 runs in the postseason -- a record he reached in the first game of the World Series. He won three playoff games at Fenway with walkoff hits, within the span of 11 days. Two of his game-winners actually came on the same calendar day (Oct. 18).
Asked if he could remember it all, or if he had a favorite moment, Big Papi smiled and said, "I only have one tape at home, the Red Sox one. I watch it over and over and over and over. I just watch that tape. It kind of hits me afterwards. When things are happening, you don't put attention to it, but when you're kicking back at home and you watch the DVD that they made for all of us, you realize, `Man, I can't believe I did that.' "
Truly, it was unbelievable.
Big Papi's roll started on the afternoon of the third game of the Division Series against the Angels. Ortiz already had hammered a pair of doubles and driven in a run when he walked up to face lefthander Jarrod Washburn in a 6-6 game in the bottom of the 10th at Fenway. One pitch. Home run. Bring on the Yankees.
"When I walked to the plate, I was thinking, `Let me try to get over with this,' " said Ortiz. "When they were bringing the lefty out of the bullpen, I just reviewed all the at-bats I had against him and what pitch he threw me and what pitch he got me out with before. I remembered he might not want to throw me a fastball because you don't want to have the game over like that. He might want to try to get me out with the cutting fastball. And I went looking for it, and he threw it to me, and I got it."
That was a mere appetizer. In the ALCS, Ortiz hit three homers, batted .387, and drove home 11 runs. He won Game 4 with another walkoff homer, then came back to win Game 5 with a walkoff single in a dramatic 10-pitch at-bat. The second game-winner came in the bottom of the 14th, which was six innings after another Ortiz homer helped bring the Sox back from a 4-2 deficit in the eighth. Then in Game 7, Big Papi crushed a two-run homer in the first inning and the Sox never trailed.
Ortiz kicked off the World Series with four RBIs in Game 1, including a three-run homer in the first inning. He didn't have to do much after that, but just for good measure he made a perfect throw to third base in Game 3, nailing Jeff Suppan in the most crucial play of the Fall Classic.
Dizzy yet? So are we. It's too much information. There's simply no way to process all the contributions made by Ortiz in the Sox' magic ride.
Senor Octubre made his first appearance in Camp Champion yesterday and was asked about the magnitude of it all.
"I was in Disney a couple of days ago with my family and I saw this 14-year-old girl," he said. "She came to me and she was crying and I was like, `Hey, what happened?' and she was like, `No, I'm just happy to meet you. You made my family's life great. You Big Papi and you played well and we won and my family was expecting that for a long time. My grandpa, he passed away and my grand, grand, grandfather he passed away expecting the Red Sox to win and you came in and helped us out and we won it.' It's a great feeling when people come to you like that."
Tongue in cheek, he added, "I think one of the most exciting moments was when I saw Curt Schilling bleeding to death pitching out there. I saw his face and I thought, `Since I was growing up, Captain America was my hero, but now you are.' I don't think, in the whole playoff, anything was more exciting than when Curt was out there with that bad ankle, bleeding, in that bad weather, coming out and performing like that.
"I was kind of worried, let me tell you. What if he makes a pitch and he comes off the mound with one leg? It was crazy, but we had a lot of great moments.
"All of us, we did something that helped this ball club win a World Series, and pretty much everybody took their game to another level."
He said his wounded shoulder was feeling fine. He said he misses Pedro Martinez. He expressed no regrets over signing a long-term deal at relatively low money in the middle of last season. He did not want to get into any Yankee-baiting, a first in Fort Myers this spring. Looking slightly trimmer, he said, "I just tried to stay away from the spoon a little bit."
At the end of his media session, he was asked if success had changed him.
"What do you guys think?" he said.
Obvious. No change.
"That's me," he said. "That's my personality. I can't change it. If I change it, my father will hit me in the head with the bottle of water. Just keep things the same way. Things have been working like that. Real good."
Senor Octubre. They should name a candy bar after the guy.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.