Big Papi walking tall among October legends
Red Sox slugger's slam in Game 2 of ALCS adds to his clutch legacy
DETROIT -- As the gravity of an epic comeback was setting in for everyone in the Red Sox's clubhouse shortly after midnight ET on Monday, the man who owns the team pretended to wonder something.
"Do you think he's the best clutch hitter in the history of the Red Sox?" principal owner John Henry said.
Henry was smiling at his own captain obvious question, because he already knew the answer.
It was back on Sept. 6, 2005, when Henry walked into the same home clubhouse at Fenway Park after Ortiz had hit a majestic walk-off homer against Scot Shields of the Angels and presented the slugger with a plaque inscribed, "The Greatest Clutch Hitter in the History of the Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz, #34."
At the time, it was impossible to know that Ortiz would still be creating late-game drama at the most crucial juncture of the season some eight years later.
With all due respect to the two men who have individual statues dedicated to them outside of Fenway Park -- the late Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski -- no player in the rich history of the club has had more big hits in October than Big Papi.
In fact, when it comes to signature hits in the late innings, it is hard to think of a player throughout the game in recent memory who has done more than Ortiz at this time of year.
"He's a legend," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "That's it."
With all due respect to Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson -- the original Mr. October -- Senor Octubre was at it again on Sunday night at Fenway Park. The Tigers were merely his latest victims.
With his team down 5-1 with two outs in the eighth, Ortiz turned on a first-pitch changeup from Joaquin Benoit and roped it into Boston's bullpen for the equalizing grand slam that set up the walk-off, 6-5 victory for the Red Sox in the ninth in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
The series, tied at one game apiece, shifts to Comerica Park on Tuesday for Game 3 at 4 p.m. ET on FOX.
"I'll tell you what -- the postseason is something that it can work both ways for you," Ortiz said. "It can go well, if you stay calm. Or it can go bad if you try to overdo things."
To Ortiz's teammates, one of the more interesting aspects of the slam heard around Red Sox Nation was his reaction, or lack thereof. There was no wild fist pump. No over the top high fives. Ortiz's home run trot didn't look a lot different than any of the 445 others (regular season and postseason) he has hit in his career.
"You saw last night, he didn't get that fired up about it at the end," right-hander John Lackey said. "It was almost like he expected to do it."
For most players, that would have been the signature hit of a career. With Ortiz, it simply goes on his best-of list.
"That just adds to his resume of awesomeness," Jonny Gomes said.
Consider the following moments Ortiz has provided for the Red Sox over the last decade.
In Game 4 of the 2003 ALDS, Ortiz belted a two-run double against A's closer (and future World Series-winning teammate) Keith Foulke to help the Red Sox overcome a one-run deficit. The hit sent the series back to Oakland, where Boston won a winner-take-all Game 5.
Then came October of 2004, when Ortiz was at his absolute "put his team on his back" best. He walked off the Angels, as in, sent them home for the season, with an extra-inning two-run blast in Game 3 of the ALDS at Fenway.
To this day, the Red Sox are the only team in history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series. It probably wouldn't have happened without Ortiz, who ripped a game-ending shot into the bullpen against Paul Quantrill in Game 4 of that '04 ALCS against the Yankees.
And the next day, Ortiz completed a lengthy at-bat against Esteban Loaiza by looping one into center in the bottom of the 14th to bring home Johnny Damon and send the series back to New York.
In '08, with the Red Sox down, 7-0, after six and down, 3-1, in the ALCS to the Rays, Ortiz smashed a three-run homer to make it a 7-4 game. The Sox came back to win on J.D. Drew's walk-off hit in the ninth.
And then came the madness of Sunday night against the Tigers.
How does one player come through so many times when the pressure is at the highest point? One reason is because Ortiz wants to be in that situation.
"He genuinely likes it," Lackey said. "He likes being up there in those spots. He enjoys all the lights on him."
Then, there's the way Ortiz manages to perfectly channel his adrenaline.
"There's a calmness and presence about him in those key moments, his emotional control allows him to perform as he does," manager John Farrell said. "I think when he does something like this, he's not surprised by himself and the things he's able to achieve."
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Ortiz as a hitter is his intelligence and preparation. Being a designated hitter helps in this respect because Ortiz has ample time to study whichever pitchers he might face throughout the course of a game and he makes sure to know all of their tendencies.
"It's a first pitch [changeup]," Will Middlebrooks said. "It's not like a heater. It's a [changeup] down and away and he hit it 400 feet, with the wind blowing in. It's stupid. It doesn't make sense. That's David Ortiz for you."
To Ortiz, who has 15 homers in the postseason, it all seems so matter-of-fact.
"I know they're not going to let me beat them with a fastball in that situation," Ortiz said. "Plus, I know that my boy, Benoit, he has a good splitter. And I take my chances in the situation. But that [changeup] was pretty much hittable. It was on the plate. And I put a good swing on it."
It was yet another October swing from Big Papi that will go down in the annals of Red Sox history.