Bases loaded, two out, eighth inning, and your team trails by four. Is there anybody you'd rather have up more than David Ortiz? Anybody at all? "That's a rhetorical question, right?" responded Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks is only in his second season in the big leagues, but he understands already. He's seen it enough, and what he hasn't seen, he's heard talked about, the legend passed down from teammate to teammate.
If it's October and time is running out on you, Ortiz is the man you want with a bat in his hands. If you've scored one run in 16 innings and your once powerful lineup has been made hapless by two different Detroit Tigers starters, Ortiz is your choice.
If you've collected just three hits in your first 51 at-bats, if you're on the verge of going on the road, trailing in the American League Championship Series, Ortiz is your last, best hope.
Team chairman Tom Werner and principal owner John Henry, standing in the delirium of the Red Sox clubhouse, a bit dazed but beaming, were reminded that they once presented Ortiz with a plaque that labeled Ortiz as the "greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history".
Apparently, that title doesn't have an expiration date.
"It still applies," said a smiling Werner.
Now, more than ever.
With just one run to their credit in Game 2 -- itself an improvement over a scoreless showing in Game 1 -- the Sox were halfway to being swept, nearly 50 percent done for the season.
But a double by Middlebrooks, a walk to Jacoby Ellsbury and a single by Dustin Pedroia -- each one coming off a different Tigers reliever -- had set the stage and given the Red Sox hope in the form of their hulking DH.
One pitch from closer Joaquin Benoit changed everything. Ortiz lined a bullet that never seemed more than seven or eight feet off the ground the entire time.
It sailed over the home bullpen wall, taking Torii Hunter with it. Hunter was upended, just as the Tigers' hope for a sweep of the Sox.
"David, so many times, has come up big," said John Farrell after the Red Sox had come back to edge the Tigers, 6-5 with a walkoff single from Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the bottom of the ninth. "Whether it's regular season, post-season . . . none bigger than tonight."
Ortiz's homer did more than tie things. It took the Red Sox from overmatched to competitive, from outclassed to worthy opponents.
Figuring that he might have to face Benoit at some point, Ortiz did some video study in the clubhouse leading up to the eighth inning at-bat.
"I know they're not going to let me beat them with a fastball in that situation," said Ortiz.
Instead, Ortiz got a changeup.
"That pitch was pretty hittable," said Ortiz. "It was on the plate and I put a good swing on it. We needed it, man."
Did they ever. The Sox had flailed their way through the first seven innings, racking up strikeout after strikeout. Having fanned 17 times in Game 1, they had struck out 13 times through the first seven innings.
If they had a plan, or a new approach, they were keeping it well hidden. But with Ortiz, they had a chance.
From the 2004 ALCS until Sunday night, Ortiz inspires fear in the opposition, hope for the Red Sox.
"We had David coming up," said Middlebrooks, "and the perfect set-up for him."
"It's Papi at the plate," said Tigers DH Victor Martinez, a teammate of Ortiz's for a season and a half. "He's been doing it for a long time. I don't think that has to surprise anybody."
"He has a knack for heroics," gushed Shane Victorino.
"I would have been like a schoolgirl running the bases if I had done that," remarked David Ross. "He was just trotting like it was nothing."
Ortiz swore this wasn't some master plan, something he expected.
"If I was telling you about thinking about hitting a grand slam," said Ortiz, I'd be lying to you now."
Maybe he wasn't. But just about everyone in the ballpark was.
"I'm pissed," declared Hunter. "The one guy you don't want to beat you . . . he beat us."
Same old Ortiz. Brand new series.
- Sean McAdam, CSN New England