And with one mighty swing of the bat on Thursday night, Big Papi brought Fenway Park back to life, filled his teammates with hope and yanked the World Series pathway right out from underneath the expectant Rays' spikes. This was as clutch as it gets, indeed, ordering all those who doubted him sheepish.
"You know how it is -- I'm not going to be hitting homers every time," Ortiz said. "But hopefully, I will, just in case."
It was Ortiz's towering three-run home run into the right-field seats in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series that deflated Rays right-hander Grant Balfour and generated the most excitement, but Big Papi was hardly alone in jump-starting the Red Sox back to life.
Having been handcuffed by Rays starter Scott Kazmir over six innings of two-hit ball, the Red Sox desperately needed a moment, an escape hatch from an October exit too early to suit the local tastes.
They got it when, with runners at the corners and a seven-run lead ominously lurking on the Green Monster scoreboard, Dustin Pedroia served a sinking line drive to shallow right field that Gabe Gross decided to play safely on a hop. With such a large lead, the Rays had the luxury of doing so, even as Jed Lowrie trotted home with the Red Sox's first run of the evening.
That brought up Ortiz, the formerly dangerous slugger who had made big spots like this his calling card. Not so much lately -- this just hadn't been Senor Octubre's month, as he had posted a 1-for-17 showing in the series to that point, the only hit a wheezing triple in an out-of-control Game 4 at Fenway on Tuesday.
"I've been swinging and missing a lot of pitches," Ortiz said. "I guess I've been dealing with that all year round. That's what makes the difference. I don't want to put too many things in my head about my swing, because my swing is not the problem. I'm missing things by half an inch. That's part of hitting the ball."
|Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is no stranger to the ALCS, posting a .284 average in 31 games.|
"It gave us three runs, and that's big," Pedroia said. "We were trying to chip away one at a time, and he gave us three. Once you get it 7-4, you see that seven and it's close."
"This is looking pretty bleak," said J.D. Drew, two innings away from drilling the game-winning hit. "But we knew if we got something rolling, let's see what happens. [Pedroia] gets that run driven in, and Papi hit that huge home run and kind of woke things up a little bit. You could feel it in the ballpark."
The Rays' advantage had been halved, manager Joe Maddon scowled behind his thick-rimmed glasses and the Red Sox believed again.
|Biggest deficits overcome in postseason history|
|Red Sox||Rays||10/16/08||ALCS 5||7||8-7|
"I think that was the turning point, where we felt like we had a chance," Coco Crisp said. "We were like, 'OK, here we go.' When Papi hits the home run, it's 7-4 and we were like, 'Now it's definitely in reach.' The big guy came through for us again. He was in a little slide, he leaned back on one and he gave everybody a sense of, 'We can do this.'"
And they would. As for Ortiz, where were those people taking the potshots now, doubting if the man wearing No. 34 could still be called Big Papi?
"Look at my size, man," Ortiz said, laughing. "It doesn't matter if I'm hitting or not. I'll always be a big guy."
With Tampa Bay shell-shocked and set down in order by a gassed Jonathan Papelbon in the top of the eighth inning, it was Boston's time once more in the eighth. Drew brought the Red Sox to within one run with a two-run homer, and after Dan Wheeler finessed two outs, Mark Kotsay doubled, bringing up Crisp.
In a 10-pitch battle, Crisp prevailed, lining a sharp single to right field, as Kotsay raced around third base, scoring well ahead of the moment when Crisp was tagged out while sliding into second.
"Probably the best at-bat he's had as a Red Sox, because of the situation," Boston manager Terry Francona said.
Red Sox in Game 5s
|With a win Thursday vs. the Rays, the Red Sox are 6-1 in Game 5s when they are trailing 3-1 in a best-of-seven or best-of-nine postseason series.|
|1903||WS||Pittsburgh||Won||Won in 8|
|1967||WS||St. Louis||Won||Lost in 7|
|1986||ALCS||California||Won||Won in 7|
|1999||ALCS||New York||Lost||Lost in 5|
|2004||ALCS||New York||Won||Won in 7|
|2007||ALCS||Cleveland||Won||Won in 7|
"It's a playoff game and you're facing elimination, and you're down by so much," Crisp said. "It's pretty much the most amazing game I've ever been a part of."
Mission accomplished, momentum accomplished. It was happening again, and nearly no one within the grandstands should have been surprised when Drew came through with what was ruled a ground-rule single, one-hopping the fence in right field and setting off jubilation on the infield.
"[Ortiz] hitting that home run right there, and then me being able to hit that home run and Coco getting that huge hit to tie the ballgame -- we realized we had the advantage at that point," Drew said.
Red Sox captain Jason Varitek said that it would be "a fun flight" winging it down to Florida, and there was little doubt of that. A team effort demanded a celebration as a team, and Boston was all too happy to hit the cool night air as a club that will see at least two more days.
"It feels good -- I'm not going to lie to you," Ortiz said. "Especially the way things have been going, we haven't been hitting that good. I know the ballclub counts on me a lot. When you have somebody down, you can't let them breathe. Hopefully, everyone takes this win. ... We've got to fight."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.