BOSTON – The worst of what the St. Louis Cardinals did Wednesday night stood on the top step of the other dugout, the one across Fenway Park from them, and it hoisted its beefy arm to the adoring crowd. This was the seventh inning, by which point the Cardinals perhaps hoped Game 1 would end without further humiliation, without losing another critical player, and with a safe and incident-free bus ride back to the team hotel.
This was David Ortiz, and the people were singing his nickname, and he was smiling, and of all they may or may not have visualized in their re-entry to the World Series, a celebration of Big Papi could only mean that the Cardinals would lose, and they would have themselves to blame for the look of it, but that the Boston Red Sox would have taken it, too.
There, amid the errors, injurious hesitations, and all the imprecision one good team could stuff into nine horrendous innings, stood Papi, a stud at 37. The Cardinals had misplayed a double-play grounder in Ortiz's first at-bat, they'd stumbled and brought Ortiz to the plate with one out instead of two in his second at-bat, he'd singled cleanly in his third at-bat. Then, with two out in the seventh, they'd misplayed a two-out grounder ahead of him, and Ortiz hit the next pitch over the Red Sox bullpen.
"That guy's a god," Red Sox catcher David Ross said. "David Ortiz shows why we call him Cooperstown around here."
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It is one thing to extend innings against the Red Sox, who do a fine enough job of that themselves. It's quite another to keep handing innings to Ortiz, in October. His 16th career postseason home run – taken from him (at great cost to Carlos Beltran) in the second inning – soared into the cool night, and finished a Cardinals team that was fortunate not to have been run off the field hours before.
The Red Sox would win, 8-1. And Ortiz would take his curtain call. He was fresh from his one-pitch at-bat against Kevin Siegrist, the 24-year-old left-hander brought from the bullpen with his upper-90's fastball just for Ortiz. He'd throw the fastball, middle of the strike zone, just hump it past the old guy, except Ortiz was waiting.
The ballpark gun said 96. Another said 97. No matter. The book said Ortiz is vulnerable to lefties, to big fastballs, and that's what Mike Matheny summoned when his team had created for itself yet another soggy moment.
Ortiz was asked what he knew about Kevin Siegrist before Wednesday night.
Maybe he didn't hear the question.
The guy you hit the home run off.
"What did I know?"
What did you know about him?
"I knew he got a good fastball," Ortiz said. "A guy with that kind of fastball you're not going to go looking for a changeup or a slider. You gotta look fastball. And I can still hit fastballs."
He can still hit fastballs, he said. He said it with defiance, like in case you forgot, like he's tired of hearing otherwise, like … any more questions?
He said it like it's personal, especially in October, in this ballpark. He can still hit fastballs, still has the bat speed, still knows a moment when he tastes one.
He'd practically won the ALCS with one swing of the bat, the one the Red Sox absolutely had to have way back in Game 2. He'd come inches from another grand slam Wednesday night off Adam Wainwright's fastball, but that ball had hung up enough for Beltran to bring it back. "Of course," he said, he believed he'd hit that ball out. Five innings later, he said, "I made sure I hit it a little farther."
For one of the more jovial men in uniform, he does not suffer doubters well. And he'll seek them out, hunt them down, get a fastball like Siegrist's and then ask how they like him now.
"He takes a lot of pride in the fact he can still hit a fastball," teammate Daniel Nava said.
Ortiz has batted .311 over the past three seasons and hit 82 home runs in spite of the Achilles' issues that shortened his 2012 season by almost half. He looks the same. And it's been years since anyone wondered if he could still hit, and yet the look is the same when he says, "I can still hit fastballs," as if he assumes people believe otherwise, and it seems to anger him, wound him.
In part because of him, the Red Sox played from a 5-0 advantage almost before the stadium lights were of much use.
As such, the Red Sox played a solid three hours endeavoring to not screw it up. That is, throw strikes, catch the ball, and try to stay out of the way of whatever evil had befallen the Cardinals.
October heroes are made with a single swing of the bat, and so what fell to Jon Lester was to avoid that at-bat. He'd throw his cutters, staying on the extremes of the Cardinals bats. He'd feather in his curveball, careful not to hang it. As the innings passed, his changeup came along. He'd hope the Cardinals batters didn't hit that oblong ball the Cardinals fielders kept trying to pick up.
Maybe it's not as easy at it looks. Lester puttered along, however. Only a couple times did a Cardinal stand in the batter's box with an opportunity to turn Game 1 into something competitive, and on those occasions David Freese grounded into a bases-loaded, inning-ending double play and Jon Jay grounded out with two out and two runners in scoring position.
That was it, pretty much.
Four or five days pass, an interminable time in baseball, the whole city falls in love, everybody digs everybody, somebody sings the national anthem for like an hour, and then there's the first pitch. The Red Sox were cool with that. Maybe because this is their place. It felt like their place. Smelled like it.
Unlike the Cardinals, they seemed to have looked right over the top of the tumult of media, and preparations, and grand, goofy gestures. (The governors, fellow Dems, have a bet. The mayors don't, as the guy in St. Louis, Francis Slay, passed, in spite of the fact anybody who refers to the winner's hardware as the World Series Cup would seem an easy mark.)
The Red Sox had played their usual game, then had sent David Ortiz to the top step, and the place had gone berserk. He's still the biggest man in the biggest lineup. Maybe he's a touch sensitive, but it works for him, and it works for them, and the Cardinals played themselves square into the teeth of it. And that was the worst of their Wednesday night.