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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Papi, Gomes epitomize heart and toughness

Papi, Gomes epitomize heart and toughness

Papi, Gomes epitomize heart and toughness

ST. LOUIS -- When someone asks you to explain these 2013 Boston Red Sox, this is the victory you can point to. This one reveals the heart of this team, the resiliency and character, too. It speaks of toughness and teamwork and improbable characters rising to the occasion.

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It's also about one resplendent superstar having maybe the finest week of his career. It's all those things and more, as the Red Sox evened the World Series at two games apiece with a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday night.

The Red Sox arrived at Busch Stadium on Sunday after taking a punch-in-the-gut defeat in Game 3 on Saturday, and it was natural to wonder if there'd be a hangover. Maybe there was. Who knows how this stuff plays out? Anyway, the Sox and Cards were tied at 1 after five innings.

That's when David Ortiz gathered his teammates in the dugout for a brief, emotional meeting.

"I think he sensed we were waiting around on something," catcher David Ross. "I don't know what he sensed. When he speaks in the dugout, we listen."

Ortiz's words?

"Guys, let's be ourselves," Ross remembered Ortiz saying. "This opportunity doesn't come along very often. Let's have some fun and grind this thing out."

Papi on an October tear
Highest batting average in a World Series
Rank Player Team Year Opp. BA
1. Billy Hatcher Cin. 1990 Oak. .750
2. David Ortiz Bos. 2013 Stl. .727
3. Babe Ruth NYY 1928 Stl. .625
4. Hideki Matsui NYY 2009 Phi. .615
5. Ricky Ledee NYY 1998 S.D. .600
5. Danny Bautista Ari. 2001 NYY .583
7. Ivey Wingo Cin. 1919 CWS .571
8. Chris Sabo Cin. 1990 Oak. .562
9. (tie) Lou Gehrig NYY 1928 Stl. .545
9. (tie) Hank Gowdy Bos. 1914 Phi. .545

A few minutes later, Jonny Gomes hammered a three-run homer to give the Red Sox a lead they never surrendered.

How's that for magic?

Had the Red Sox lost, they would have been in a 3-1 hole and facing Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in Game 5 on Monday night.

"I know we have a better offensive team than what we've showed," Ortiz said. "When you're putting pressure on yourself and you're trying to overdo things, it doesn't always work. [It was] just one of those speeches that motivate players and bring you to reality. I will do it tomorrow again if I have to."

Now the Red Sox have guaranteed that the Series will return to Fenway Park for Game 6 (Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, 8:07 first pitch) and, possibly, Game 7.

"This is what a World Series should be like," Ross said. "The resiliency of this team is unlike anything I've been a part of."

If you're keeping track, the Olde Towne Team hasn't clinched a championship at home since 1918.

Perhaps more important than what Ortiz said was how he said it -- loudly, and, as he does everything else, filled with emotion. He got their attention.

"It was like 24 kindergartners looking up at their teacher," Gomes said.

Papi provides the pop
Highest slugging percentage in World Series history
Rank Player PA SLG
1. Barry Bonds 30 1.294
2. Willie Aikens 26 1.100
3. Amos Otis 26 .957
4. Troy Glaus 30 .846
5. (tie) David Ortiz 50 .795
5. (tie) Chase Utley 49 .795
7. Reggie Jackson 116 .755
8. Hideki Matsui 41 .750
9. Babe Ruth 167 .744
10. Lou Gehrig 150 .731

Ortiz is having one of the greatest World Series any player has ever had. After four games, he's hitting a cool .727 and has been on base 12 times in 15 plate appearances. Ortiz had three hits and a walk in Game 4, and the Cards might not now give him many more hittable pitches to see if he's disciplined enough to settle for a walk.

That's what Ortiz did in the top of the sixth after Dustin Pedroia singled to lead off the inning. He walked, and Gomes followed with the home run that swung the series back in Boston's favor.

That it was Gomes who notched the deciding hit was special on its own. Perhaps more than any other player, he typifies the grit and toughness of these Red Sox.

Gomes has been a role player for most of his 11 seasons, and the Red Sox are his fifth team -- the fourth in the last three seasons. He wasn't even supposed to be in the lineup for Game 4, but when Shane Victorino was scratched with a sore back, Gomes got the call during batting practice.

To deliver on baseball's biggest stage was a moment filled with emotion, on many levels. Gomes has been revered throughout his career for his unselfishness and work ethic, but he has had to work relentlessly for everything he has gotten.

"One thing I've fought for since I signed up for this game was the opportunity," Gomes said, "whether that's a pinch-hit or a start. When my number is called, I've got to be ready. You talk about a guy like me, and pretty much every single at-bat, every single pitch, my career is on the line. Every punchout is, 'See, I told you so.' Every hit is, 'That wasn't supposed to happen.' I don't need any pats on the back or to make it a sob story. I'm just grateful."

Baseball promoted its annual Stand Up To Cancer program between the fifth and sixth innings, and Gomes held up signs honoring his high school coach, the late Bob Leslie, and a young Red Sox fan, Brady Wein.

"Talk about battle-tested," Gomes said of Wein. "This little kid, he comes out to the ballpark every once in a while, and it was pretty special to be able to do that [in the] top of the sixth. It really adds to the fairy tale that it was for me today."

When general manager Ben Cherington overhauled his roster last winter, he wanted both an infusion of talent as well as a change in attitude. That's why Gomes and Ross were signed. Both brought plenty of things to the table that can be measured, but they also brought plenty that can't.

And that's what this one was all about. Manager John Farrell used three of his five starting pitchers, first squeezing four innings from right-hander Clay Buchholz, who pitched despite tightness in his shoulder that has reduced his 93-mph fastball to around 88 mph.

Buchholz got through four innings on determination and a nice sinker, then Farrell began a parade of relievers, including Felix Doubront, a starter during the regular season, for 2 2/3 innings and Game 2 starter John Lackey for one.

Somehow the whole was again greater than the sum of all the parts Cherington assembled. The Red Sox have plenty of gifted players, some of the best in the game, but they have something else going on, too.

"I'd probably screw it up if I tried to put it into words," Gomes said. "What's going on inside here is pretty special, magical."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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