Boston strongman: David Ortiz leads Red Sox to World Series title
BOSTON -- It was after two o'clock in the morning when David Ortiz bounced out of the Red Sox clubhouse for the first time as a three-time world champion. He was surrounded by a phalanx of friends and fans that grew with nearly every step as he walked underneath Fenway Park. Ortiz does not walk alone, no more than does a rock star or a five-star general, and he exhibits qualities of both at all times.
A trio of admiring police officers brought the entourage to a brief stop. One of them, Chief Jeffrey Silva of the Westwood, Mass., Police Department, pulled out his cell phone to take a picture. His eight-year-old son had one question for him when he left for work that day to assist the Boston P.D. in keeping the peace for what would be one of the biggest nights in the city's sports history, Game 6 of the World Series, the first opportunity for the Red Sox to win the series at home since 1918. "Dad," his son asked, "can you get me Big Papi's autograph?"
"I'll be working outside the ballpark," Silva had replied. "I don't think there's any chance of that happening."
Instead, he found himself standing next to the newly-minted World Series MVP, not to mention Boston's unofficial team captain, spokesman, grief counselor, chaplain, grillmaster and cheerleader. Silva practically turned into an eight-year-old himself shaking hands and congratulating Ortiz.
"He represents everything Boston is about," said Chief Silva. "Hard-working people who look out for one another. The way he handled everything from the bombing to the whole season tells you how much he cares. The epitome of leadership is when people look to you in time of trouble and you want to be the one to provide the help. That's what people see in David: a true leader."
If there is one singular flavor to take away from this World Series it is that for the first time in 95 years the Red Sox and their fans celebrated a championship in Fenway Park. "The cathedral of baseball," Boston outfielder Jonny Gomes called it.
The cathedral fairly rattled and shook Wednesday night from as much joyful noise as 38,477 people can muster. So jazzed were the Fenway faithful that they stood for much of the game. So festive was the crowd that it was Times Square on New Year's Eve, except this time the question for the revelers was whether, not when, the ball would drop. It did so at 11:20 p.m. ET on the night before Halloween.
In the past 10 years we have seen the Red Sox end an 86-year championship drought, the White Sox end an 88-year drought and the Giants end a 56-year drought. But so important is Fenway and baseball to the life of Boston that the end of the Red Sox' 95-year drought falls just behind -- though still in the company of -- the other Bucket List benchmarks of the last decade.
Fenway aside, what will resonate the most from this Fall Classic is the statement Ortiz made with his play. It came just six months after the more prideful, if vulgar, one that he made when Fenway opened its arms to fans for the first time since the terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15. "This is our f---ing city!" he shouted to the world as much to as his fellow Bostonians on April 20.
That comment echoed literally after the World Series clincher. "This is our bleeping city," Ortiz said with a smile upon being presented with a trophy and a truck as the series' MVP. But the personal statement Ortiz made is that he is the force that moves this team in every imaginable way. The man hit .688 and reached base 19 times in 25 plate appearances. You simply do not put up those kinds of numbers in the major leagues. Not in the World Series. Not against the collection of power arms that the Cardinals kept running out to the mound. Heck, you don't put up numbers like that in Little League or slow-pitch softball.
This will go down as the World Series of Ortiz. The Fall Classic was a celebration of resilience, the resilience of both the Red Sox, who own the all-time worst winning percentage (.426 in 2011) of any team that went on to win the World Series the next year, and the resilience of Bostonians, who lived up to the "B Strong" motto after the bombings last April. Ortiz is the embodiment of that spirit. People want to follow this natural born leader, and Ortiz wants people to follow him.
"I've played with a lot of superstars," Red Sox catcher David Ross said, "but I've never been around a superstar who cared more about winning than David. He could go 0-for-4, but if we win the game, he's the happiest man in the room."
It was Ortiz who had delivered the opening shot across the Cardinals' bow in this series, a two-run homer off St. Louis reliever Kevin Siegrist late in Boston's 8-1 victory in Game 1. Siegrist had not allowed a home run to a left-handed hitter all year, and yet Ortiz walloped the first pitch Siegrist ever threw to him, a 96-mph heater.
"He came into the series with one plan," Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn said, "and that was, I'm ready to hit the fastball. You can't throw a fastball by him."
The next day in a 4-2 loss in Game 2, Ortiz smashed a two-run homer off Cardinals phenom Michael Wacha -- on a 3-and-2 changeup. No one had hit a home run off Wacha's changeup the whole year. No matter the pitchers or the pitches, St. Louis had so much trouble dealing with Ortiz that the Cardinals finally decided in Game 6 not to deal with him at all. They walked him a World Series record-tying four times, including three intentional walks -- the most ever in a series clincher. Twice on those occasions he came around to score.
"He's as hot as anyone you're going to see this time of year," said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny. "We tried to make tough pitches in tough situations, tried to pitch around him at times. What this comes down to, they got big hits in big situations, and that's something that eluded us this time."
Boston manager John Farrell anticipated that Matheny had run out of patience trying to pitch to Ortiz. Expecting Matheny to walk Ortiz in just about any significant spot, Farrell moved Shane Victorino, his regular No. 2 hitter, to the six hole in order to, in his words, "lengthen the lineup behind David." The move paid big dividends. Victorino drove in four runs in the shadow of Ortiz's intentional walks, including three on a double off the Green Monster in the third inning that got the party started.
The Red Sox were just too good for the Cardinals. By either going through or around Ortiz, St. Louis would pay a toll either way. The Boston lineup was just relentless enough to have Ortiz's back. The 6-7-8-9 hitters for St. Louis, on the other hand, batted just .146, with no RBIs in 82 at-bats.
"I know I'm one of the forces for this ballgame," Ortiz said, "and I like to take things personal, you know. And that's been my whole career, a challenge. And I wasn't trying to be the guy, but I know I got to get something done to keep the line moving. And thank God, everything worked out well, and I don't even have to do anything today, I guess. The rest of the team took over."
Ortiz's fingerprints were all over this series, and not just from the debilitating home runs that he hit off the Cardinals' strong-armed kid pitchers, or the fact that he hit .688 while the rest of his team hit .169. Before the series began he hosted the entire Red Sox team at his house for a barbecue, his third such party of the postseason. He scored from first on a double in Game 1. Normally the DH, he played three straight flawless games at first base in St. Louis. And in what should stand as the seminal spiritual moment of this World Series, he gathered his teammates in the dugout for an impromptu sermon before the sixth inning of Game 4 with the score tied at 1. Ortiz implored his teammates to make the most of their opportunity, and they immediately seized the moment. Just minutes later -- after yet another fearful walk to Ortiz -- Gomes belted a three-run homer. It was the turning point of the series. The Red Sox would never trail again in winning Games 4, 5 and 6.
The end, because it almost never was in doubt, was something for Boston to savor. It came when closer Koji Uehara reached back for the last pitch of this redemptive season. In a nod to modernity, white sparkles of light -- the flash of so many iPhones recording a pitch 95 years in the making -- created a constellation of phosphorescence. When Matt Carpenter swung and missed amid the glare of all those man-made stars, a thunderous noise rose up from the 101-year-old cathedral. Somehow, for the fans and for the bearded men proudly wearing the home whites, the ending seemed just right, as if it were made to be, even going back to that terrible Monday morning in April.
It may seem as if the Red Sox' three world championships in the past decade are pearls upon the same string. This is not so. This one stands apart. Ortiz is the only player from the 2004 and '07 title teams to also be a part of this one. He is the first player since Jim Palmer of the 1966, '70 and '83 Orioles to win three rings without playing for the Yankees. And Ortiz knew this championship stands on its own merits. He knows this one might be the most special of all.
"I would say [that] because this is a team that we have a lot of players with heart," he said.
There will be plenty of time to talk about Ortiz's Hall of Fame candidacy. He turns 38 next month and is coming off a third straight season with an OPS better than .950. It's a conversation that can wait because of all the baseball he seems to have left in him. But understand what this World Series did for Ortiz: He became the greatest hitter in series history (his .454 batting average is the best of anyone with 50 plate appearances), one of the most renowned leaders in baseball history and perhaps the most beloved athlete in Boston sports history. All of it is as much for who he is as for what he has done.
It is clearer now than ever before; never does Ortiz walk alone. A team and a city follow him. They followed him straight to what for Boston is the triumph of the century.