ST. LOUIS — David Ortiz stood on second base, having just hit a double off St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn in the fifth inning of Sunday night's Game 4 of the World Series. He hadn't even caught his breath when he looked back to the Boston Red Sox dugout and shouted.
"Let's go!" Ortiz yelled, waving his arms and then clapping his hands. "Vamonos!"
He came around to score Boston's first run a few minutes later. It tied the game at one. When Ortiz got back into the dugout, his summoned his teammates. They huddled around him like he was a quarterback. Or Hunter Pence.
The audience watching the game on TV saw it, but couldn't hear what Ortiz was saying. The passion, obvious. The intent, clear. He wasn't going to let his Red Sox, gut-punched a night earlier, flop out of this World Series. Not without saying something.
"When David Ortiz speaks," said catcher David Ross, "I listen."
"You want to fight for him," said outfielder Quintin Berry.
"We call him Cooperstown," said pitcher Clay Buchholz. "Anything he says, everybody listens."
And what did they hear when Big Papi opened his mouth?
"If you think we're going to come to the World Series every year, you're wrong," Ortiz recounted after the game. "You know how many people we beat to get to this level, to this stage? A lot of good teams, a lot of good teams. That doesn't happen every year. I told them, it took me five years to get back to this stage. We had a better team than we have right now and we never made it. So take advantage of being here."
Ortiz wanted to create a spark and he did. The next inning, Jonny Gomes, hitless in the World Series until that point, clobbered a three-run homer off Seth Maness that put the Red Sox ahead 4-1. The Red Sox didn't score again, but they didn't need to. They won 4-2 to even the series and guarantee that it will go back to Boston.
“For him to do it openly like that," said bench coach Torey Lovullo, "was a pretty powerful moment for all of us. He doesn’t say much. But when he does, we all certainly stop what we’re doing and pay attention."
Ortiz compared Sunday's speech to one he gave in 2007, after his team had fell behind 2-1 to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS. In that one, he told his teammates:
"Listen, we're not just a good team. We're a great team. And don't you [expletive] forget that. And let's go play one at a time and go prove that. Because let me tell you something ... there's a reason why you wear this Red Sox uniform ... because you're a bad mother-[expletive]."
The Red Sox won the World Series that year, only losing one game after his speech.
"I don't plan things," Ortiz said. "I just say things when I feel like I have to."
While Big Papi's pep talk was a big part Boston's Game 4 win Sunday, so was his night at the plate. He was 3-for-3 and scored two runs. The Cardinals pitched around him in the sixth inning, setting the table for Gomes' three-run blast.
"I'm the dinosaur here," said Ortiz, 37. "I don't have another 10 years in me. I don't know when I'm going to be back in the World Series. Gotta give everything I have right now."
Everything is right. Ortiz is now 8-for-11 in the series, hitting .727 with two homers and five RBIs. He's also walked four times and has eight of the Red Sox's 24 hits. It seems like the only pitcher who can get Ortiz out is his manager (and ex-starter) John Farrell, who pulled Ortiz in a double-switch late in the game.
"If you don’t let him leave the ballpark," said Cardinals Game 4 starter Lance Lynn, "it’s a good night."
Lynn succeeded there, at least. Not everyone has been so lucky against Ortiz. We're talking about a guy who has hit 17 career postseason homers. He's now hitting .435 for his career in the World Series with a .540 on-base percentage.
When the final out was made — on a pick-off from closer Koji Uehara, of all things — Ortiz rushed the field and lifted Uehara over his shoulder, proving he could celebrate as intensely and he can motivate.
All week, people have been asking Ortiz why he's so good in the World Series. What's his secret? He's answered with a quip a few times, saying he can't tell.
Sunday night, he divulged a little bit. The question came up again. What makes him so dangerous in October? Ortiz's answer was much shorter than the speech he gave his teammates.
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