David Ortiz Topps 2004

What have we learned? We've learned to never, ever walk a guy to face David Ortiz.

I’ll set the scene for you.

It’s just before 8 p.m., and I’m on I-495 headed back to my luxurious studio apartment in New Bedford, listening to the end of Saturday’s Red Sox-Tigers game. The Sox are down 4-2, with one out in the ninth inning, and lefty Phil Coke is on the mound for Detroit.

Darnell McDonald is on first, and Jed Lowrie is called upon to pinch hit for Eric Patterson. Lowrie rips a double off the wall in center field, advancing McDonald to second base.

Now, with one out and first base open, Tigers manager Jim Leyland walks Kevin Youkilis, which does a couple of things. For the Tigers, it sets up a force out at every base and gives Leyland a favorable lefty-lefty matchup. For Boston, it puts the winning run on first base, and that lefty up to bat against Coke?

David Ortiz. Damn right.

Now, on paper, this isn’t the worst idea in the world. Ortiz had faced Coke 10 times leading up to this at bat, and he was 0-for-10 with one walk and three strike outs. But today, Ortiz was facing Coke the day after drilling a grand slam in the ninth to cut a 6-1 Tigers lead 6-5. He’s very much Big Papi, and I was getting visibly giddy to anyone who drove by me in the car.

According to the play-by-play, the first pitch was a ball. The second, also a ball. Coke threw a fastball on the outer half of the plate that Ortiz knicked for a foul. And then he drilled that motherfucker to left field. In the alley, three runs score, Sox win 5-4, and I’m losing my mind in the car, punching the roof, hopping up and down on the seat, and screaming. Screaming!

When the coverage cut to commerical, I quickly queued up my iPod to the Standells’ “Dirty Water.” And I cranked it. And I played it again when it finished.

I turned it back to hear the wrap-up show, and Red Sox radio man Dave O’Brien had this gem for the masses:

In the end, the Red Sox had David Ortiz and the Tigers didn’t.

David Ortiz. Big Papi. Damn right.

♦ ♦ ♦

With this win, the Red Sox find themselves in third place in the American League East, 7½ games behind the Yankees and 5½ behind the Rays. They’ve dealt with a string of injuries, a faltering bullpen, and, most ridiculously, charges of being boring.

This team is anything but boring. Missing Jacoby Ellsbury for most of the season, losing Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek for a good chunk of the summer and going without, at different points, Clay Buccholz, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka in the starting rotation. Through all that, that they’re only 5½ games out of a playoff spot is amazing, and the cast that has brought them this far has made for more than their share of excitement.

For example:

  • Ortiz: He was buried and left for dead, and is pulling his best Uma Thurman to terrorize the American League. As of this day, he’s looking at 22 home runs, 71 RBI and a .905 OPS. He’s a machine again, and if he let me, I’d kiss him on the mouth. You read that right.
  • Darnell McDonald: He’s played more games this year than his entire career combined, he hit a home run and a walk-off single in his first game, and he just keeps delivering big hit after big hit. I can’t think of an easier Sock to root for in recent memory.
  • Clay Buccholz: He’s come on this season like a big goofy Texas tornado. I love the guy.
  • Jed Lowrie: Seemingly back from Area 51, he’s been huge the past two weeks. He might have a starting spot in the infield waiting for him next season.
  • Jon Lester: Just nasty. Nasty!
  • Daniel Bard/Jonathan Papelbon: Their best one-two punch in the bullpen since they won the World Series in 2007.
  • Daniel Nava: He’s overrated now, but his debut was one to remember.
  • Billy Hall: He’s done everything but catch, play first and sell hot dogs.
  • Jason Varitek: Settling comfortably into a backup role, seems to hit a home run or a double every time he’s up.
  • Adrian Beltre: His one-knee home runs will never get old.

They are infuriating to watch at times, as they’ve blown their share of close games. They’ve also pulled out games they had no business winning, with a bizarre cast of characters contributing to this win. They’re the very definition of rag-tag, playing out of position, playing over their heads and coming together to keep this team in the race in the face of adversity.

They might not make the playoffs, but they’re definitely fun. And they’re anything but boring.

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