ST. LOUIS — For more than a decade now, David Ortiz has been renowned for carrying a big stick, particularly in the postseason.
But the “speak softly” aspect of that old adage? Yeah, that’s not exactly Big Papi’s approach. And if you’re a Red Sox fan, be grateful for that, among so much more.
Ortiz did his usual damage with the bat during the Red Sox’ thrilling, fulfilling 4-2 victory over the Cardinals Sunday night to even the World Series at two games apiece. He reached base in every plate appearance, hitting a double, two singles, and drawing a walk. He also scored twice, including the Red Sox’ first run in the fifth inning when he hustled home on Stephen Drew‘s sacrifice fly to left field to tie the score.
He is now hitting .727 in this series, and the way he’s going, it’s hard to remember the 27.3 percent of the time he’s made an out. But as important as his performance was on a night when the Red Sox got crucial help from a myriad of sources expected and surprising, it wasn’t just his bat that did the talking.
“Our guys look up to him,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “And he had kind of a timely conversation with everybody.”
Ortiz’s oratory skills aren’t quite as legendary as his hitting skills, but they are known to have an effect on a crowd. He’s on a very short list of human being to have dropped a choice expletive on live television only to have the Federal Communications Commission take the bro-we-hear-no-evil approach.
So when he gathered his teammates in the dugout during the top of the sixth inning, the score still tied at 1 and the degree of difficulty in the Sox’ quest for three championships in a decade hanging in the balance, well … now we know what a fully rapt 25-player baseball huddle looks like.
“Any time this guy steps in the box, there’s a presence,” said Jonny Gomes, who perhaps coincidentally — or perhaps not — untied the game during that very half-inning with a three-run homer off Cardinals reliever Seth Maness. “Any time this guy puts on a uniform, there’s a presence. If this guy wants to rally us together for a pep talk, it was like 24 kindergartners looking up at their teacher. He got everyone’s attention, and we looked him right in the eyes. That message was pretty powerful.”
Gomes, who was in the lineup only because right fielder Shane Victorino was scratched a little more than an hour before game time with lower back pain, wouldn’t detail exactly what Ortiz’s message entailed. ESPN’s international broadcast feed did catch a few of his words. The gist? Play the game the way we’ve played it all season. Believe in yourselves. And enjoy this. Among memorable speeches, of course it was not on the inspirational level of “This is our [expletive] city.”
But the purpose was served.
Ortiz, the only player remaining who can offer a first-person account of the magic of October 2004, knows how to inspire in the heat of the moment.
“It just sums up the type of guy he is, the superstar he is. The teammate he is. The passion he has for this game, and the passion he has for the 24 guys he’s sharing the dugout with,” Gomes said.”
“Whatever comes out of his mouth is going to be meaningful, priceless, and probably something you don’t know. He had everyone’s attention pretty quick. And he gave us the kick in the butt that we needed.”
Whether it was Ortiz’s words or Gomes’s action that changed the tenor of the game, the truth is that the Red Sox began looking familiar again. Now this was the relentless, selfless team that exceeded our expectations by the length of an Ortiz moonshot all summer. This was the team that is unified and resilient all the way through the 27th out and right on through the beard-tugging, high-fiving handshake line.
It was Koji Uehara who recorded the final out as usual, but this time it was in a fashion that fits the wild and wooly vibe of this series so far.
With the ever-dangerous Carlos Beltran, who entered Game 4 with a 1.155 OPS in 48 career playoff games and who drove in the game’s first run in the third inning, in the batter’s box, Uehara found a creative way to avoid dealing with such a dangerous hitter: he picked off pinch runner Kolten Wong, apparently a cum laude graduate of the Jeff Suppan Baserunning School, for the final out.
While Uehara earned the official save, he wouldn’t have stepped on the mound if not for some stellar lockdown work in front of him. John Lackey is now not only a Beloved Fan-Favorite — it’s official now — but also a part-time setup guy in between starts. The Game 2 starter pitched the eighth inning and escaped a one-out, runner-on-third jam to keep the margin at 2.
It was his first relief appearance since June 27, 2004, when he threw a one-hit seventh inning in a 10-5 loss to the Dodgers. Dave Roberts, who would have some memorable baseball experiences of his own at Fenway later that season, led off for the Dodgers that day. Their catcher was David Ross.
And before Lackey got his inning, there was Felix Doubront with 2.2 innings of essential scoreless relief. He gave way to Junichi Tazawa in the seventh, who retired Matt Holliday for a crucial third out, a night after Holliday had dented him for a key double.
“I want to be part of the team to win the game,” said Doubront. “I was just relaxed and doing my job.”
When Farrell was asked about the work of Doubront and Lackey, he made sure to first acknowledge where the night began pitching-wise rather than how it got to the finish line.
“I don’t want to skip over Clay Buchholz,” he said of his obviously ailing starter, whose velocity was down so much that MLB GameCast had a difficult time distinguishing his fastball from his changeup.
“That was four important innings. So much attention has been brought to, ‘Can he make it? What’s he going to give you?’ A lot of scrutiny around the situation. He might not have had his midseason stuff” — Buchholz allowed one run in those four innings, touching 90 miles per hour just six times in 66 pitches – “but he gave us everything he could.”
He gave us everything he could. That’s been the theme of these Red Sox all season long, down to every last man who surrounded Ortiz in the dugout Sunday night.
We won’t know how that story ends for a few more days, but we do know this: The World Series will be settled at Fenway Park for the first time since 1975, and David Ortiz, that prince of October, isn’t about to let them go quietly.
Mobile users unable to see the video, click here.