BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox speaks during a pre-game ceremony in honor of the bombings of Marathon Monday before a game at Fenway Park on April 20, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Think of it all in these terms: of the 12 championships that Boston has won in the last 20 years, nine of them featured Tom Brady or David Ortiz. New England was home to the greatest football player of all-time and arguably the most fearsome clutch hitter in baseball history, both of whom had one indisputable thing in common.
They recognized the moment.
And timing, as we know is everything.
While Brady plays on elsewhere, Ortiz will enter the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this weekend as the Red Sox open the second half of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Trying to define what Ortiz has meant to Boston is impossible to do in any small space because the list is simply too long. And for every big hit we remember, there were many other smaller moments that were equally revealing.
In August 2005, for instance, against Detroit closer Fernando Rodney, Ortiz came to the plate with one out, the bases empty and the Red Sox trailing by a 3-2 score. He homered to tie the game. An inning later, he homered again during a seven-run rally that propelled the Red Sox a 10-7 victory and helped propel him to a second place finish in the 2005 American League Most Valuable Player Award balloting.
Simply put, Ortiz pretty much did it all while he was here, from smashing dugout phones and angrily storming in to managerial press conferences. He ranted. He raved. He both lost his cool and kept it, the former because he often wore his heart on his sleeve, the latter because he never seemed to rattle in the biggest moments of the biggest games.
Everybody has their own list of Ortiz highlights. Here’s mine:
“This Is Our Fucking City”
Ortiz hit a combined 558 career home runs in the regular season and postseason, but his biggest bomb began with an “F.” Addressing the Fenway Park crowd as the Red Sox returned to the field for their first home game after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Ortiz took the microphone, spoke from the gut and uttered the words that became as much of a rallying cry as Boston Strong. This is our fucking city.
With all due respect to Brady, it’s something he never would have said. Ortiz did, drawing a roar from the crowd and accurately reflecting many of the emotions Bostonians felt at the time – including anger and resolve. The underdog Red Sox went on to win the World Series, during which Ortiz batted .688 and won his only World Series MVP honor.
Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS
Serious question: in all of baseball history, has there ever been a more clutch home run than this one? When Ortiz came to bat in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series against Detroit, the Red Sox were in big, big trouble. Playing the first two games at home, Boston was on the verge of going down 0-2 in the ALCS. To that point in the series, Red Sox batters were 6-for-54 (a .111 average) with an insane 31 strikeouts. They had virtually no chances to score. The Sox trailed 5-1 when Ortiz came to the plate with the bases loaded – and everyone was thinking the same thing: grand slam.
On the first pitch, Ortiz rifled a liner into the Boston bullpen that flipped both Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter and the entire series, which the Red Sox went on to win in six games. Had it all been part of a movie script, it would have seemed farfetched and overly dramatic. But it was very, very real.
Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS
Here’s something Ortiz never really got enough credit for: his skill and intelligence as a hitter. But let’s explain. The great Reggie Jackson will forever be known as “Mr. October,” but with Jackson it was almost always about the home runs. He was a slugger. This at-bat against Yankees right-hander Esteban Loaiza wasn’t overly sexy, but it was as challenging a confrontation as Ortiz had in any big spot. A 21-game winner with the Chicago White in the 2003 season, Loaiza was at the top of his game on the night of Game 5.
There were two outs with two men on when Ortiz came to the plate in a tie game in the bottom of the 14th inning, when he put together this 10-pitch at-bat, which you can see above in edited form. Everyone remembers the walk-off home run against Paul Quantrill in Game 4 a night earlier, but that homer only prevented a Yankees sweep. This one got the Red Sox back in the series and sent the teams back to New York, where the Yankees had to play Game 6 with the specter of Game 7 looming. This was one of the best and biggest at-bats in Red Sox history.
Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS
Look, we never said the Quantrill homer had zero importance. We just said that the above single against Loaiza actually had greater meaning. That said, as we all know, the Red Sox were facing an ugly sweep at the hands of the Yankees after a 19-8 loss in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS. After Dave Roberts stole his base in the ninth inning and scored on a single by Bill Mueller to tie the score, the game went into the bottom of the 12th still tied at 4-4 when Ortiz spun on a 2-1 offering from Quantrill and ripped a two-run homer into the Yankees bullpen, giving the Red Sox a 6-4 victory.
More importantly, Ortiz gave Boston life, which proved to be a recurring theme throughout the 2004 postseason and his Red Sox career. A night later, after the game-winner against Loaiza, even Ortiz’ teammates were in awe. I tried to do a quick internet search of something Gabe Kapler said at the time and I couldn’t find it, but I’m almost 100 percent sure it went something like this: “I hope everyone can appreciate what he’s doing right now because it’s not that easy.” He was right.
Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS
Maybe you remember this, and maybe you don’t, but do not underestimate its importance. Today, if you ask people about Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, they’ll remember that the Red Sox blew the Yankees out by 10-3 score and that the Yankees awakened for a brief instant when Pedro Martinez came into the game as a reliever.
But perhaps the biggest hit of the game came in the very first inning. With one out, Johnny Damon tried to score on a single by Manny Ramirez and was thrown out at the plate on a relay by Derek Jeter, a play that was, in a word, deflating. The stadium roared. On the next pitch, Ortiz whistled a two-run homer into the right field seats, erasing any residue of the play and giving the Red Sox an immediate 2-0 advantage. Just like that.
Given that the Red Sox had crumbled at Yankee Stadium a year earlier in Game 7, the importance of that hit should never be ignored. The Red Sox took control of Game 7 from the start and never really relinquished it. The moral of the story? David Ortiz was there when Boston needed him.