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A memorable home run by David Ortiz? Yes, Red Sox fans, it must be October

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 14, 2013 01:44 AM

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While the reminders are forever welcome, they're not exactly necessary.

Anyone among us who knows that enduring memories can come as the reward for staying up until the final pitch of an October ballgame ... anyone aware of the plaques, trucks, and lucrative contracts swaggering, slugging David Americo Ortiz has received as thank-yous for his uncanny ability to seize the stage when the spotlight is brightest ... hell, anyone in New England whose chief wardrobe accessory is a frayed and faded Red Sox cap has long since known the truth:

David Ortiz has a habit -- this delightful, historic habit -- of changing everything with one swing.

Ortiz did it again Sunday night, changing the tenor of this American League Championship Series heavyweight bout with the talented Tigers with one mighty swing.

Shut down by Tigers starter Max Scherzer through seven innings and having managed just three hits against 30 strikeouts through the first 16 innings of this series, Ortiz's grand slam in the eighth inning tied the score at 5-5 and instantly changed the entire mood on what was shaping up to be a grim night.

Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz pitched well through five innings, but gave up homers to Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila in the sixth as the Tigers took a 5-0 lead. The five runs were the most Buchholz allowed in any start this season. Such a margin felt insurmountable since the Sox had yet to manage a hit off Scherzer, who became the third straight Tigers starter to carry a no-hitter into at least the sixth inning this postseason.

But Tigers manager Jim Leyland pulled Scherzer after 108 pitches, and the regret must have been pretty close to instant. Before Scherzer could finish accepting teammates' props for a job well done, the Red Sox were rallying against four Tigers relievers in the eighth.

The last of them, closer Joaquin Benoit, entered with a 5-1 lead, two outs, and the bases loaded. He'd depart with an unwanted place in Red Sox lore.

One pitch to Ortiz and one turbo-boosted drive into the Red Sox bullpen later, the score was tied, and Benoit joined Paul Quantrill, Jarrod Washburn, Estaban Loaiza, and Tom Gordon among others on a list of pitchers he'd victimized in crucial playoff situations since joining the Red Sox in 2003.

An inning later, what suddenly felt inevitable proved to be inevitable -- a walk-off Red Sox victory, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia doing the honors with a single to left to plate Jonny Gomes, then sprinting gleefully around the basepath with seemingly everyone on the Red Sox' 40-man roster in pursuit.

It was Saltalamacchia's night, too. Yet even the man who ultimately won the game couldn't help but marvel at the way Ortiz altered it.

"It's incredible. On the bench, there's nobody really surprised when he does something like he does,'' Saltalamacchia said. "You watch it on TV for so many years, and growing up watching it, and then being on the bench and watching the ball go out and seeing him run the bases, it's incredible. It's like any other day. He gets excited, but you can't really tell he's any different, if he's rushed or he's calm. He's the same every day."

Ortiz acknowledged that his ability to remain poised in a moment in which anyone who has an emotional investment in the game feels their nerves jangling is a reason he so often succeeds under pressure.

"You know, I just tried not to do too much, man,'' said Ortiz afterward. "I try to put a good swing on the ball. My idea at-bat wasn't to go out and hit a grand slam. We've been struggling, when it comes down to put a good swing on the ball.

"If I was telling you about thinking about hitting a grand slam, I'd be lying to you now."

As if the moment weren't dramatic enough, Torii Hunter, the Tigers' right fielder and a close friend of Ortiz since they were 21 years old and in Double A 16 years ago, flipped over the wall while pursuing the ball and appeared to cut the back of his head while toppling into the bullpen.

"I'll put some ice on it, some Robitussin on it,'' said Hunter afterward.

The image of Hunter's legs pointing skyward while a police officer next to him has his arms raised in triumph should be hanging on prime real-estate wall of The Fours no later than midday tomorrow.

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Did you notice? Did it jump out at you too? The trajectory and direction of this Big Papi blast was instantly reminiscent of his walkoff homer off the Yankees reliever Quantrill in the Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.

That, as some of you may recall, also was the night of Dave Roberts's famous ninth-inning steal. Maybe it's coincidence, maybe it's karma if you believe in such things, and maybe it warrants nothing but a "huh ... cool,'' but Roberts did throw out the first pitch last night.

Roberts's presence reminds you how remarkable it is that Ortiz, the last man remaining from the 2004 champions, is still doing this while so many others have moved on.

Even though we know his capabilities, even though we still expect him to rise to meet the occasion at 37 years old and six seasons removed from the last championship, that magic and his magnitude for the moment never, ever gets old.

And that goes for you and me, for every one of the 38,029 in attendance Sunday night, for current teammates like Saltalamacchia, and for long-retired teammates who savored riding with him during other good times.

Leave it to Papi to relegate a Tom Brady game-winning touchdown pass to the second-best comeback of the day.

Leave it to him to remind us of what we should have learned through this rewarding summer: Doubting this team, let alone counting them out, is a fine way to look like the fool.

And leave it to him to make us ponder this:

Maybe an American League Championship Series doesn't truly begin for the Red Sox until David Ortiz does something spectacular, and familiar too.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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