ST. LOUIS – There's a frantic element to postseason baseball, which belies the nature of a slow game. Beneath the crust of one man holding the ball and collecting himself while everyone else stands and waits, so lays the commotion. It's in their heads and in their hearts. Sometimes in their stomachs. It's the din of adjustments and angst and exultation and disappointment, and what's next, and who's ready, and what time tomorrow and all the silly questions and, hey, when's the bus?
[Photos: World Series Game 5]
David Ortiz walks in wearing a black suit, a pink, striped shirt, a pink hanky poking out of his left breast pocket. He glitters with diamonds and gold and silver. And teeth.
Other guys scamper. Their eyes dart. He strides. He arrives with sleepy eyes, his voice bass-y and thick and sure. He moves and the world moves with him, even on a ball he's hit into the belly of the defensive shift, his feet jabbing tiny and delicate strides through the bag.
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He sets the pace. And the price. He aired them out during Game 4 here, and they perked up, and they won. He kept hitting in Game 5 here Monday, and they won again (by a 3-1 score), and a few hours later the Boston Red Sox boarded a flight bound for Boston ahead three games to two in the World Series.
So much has to happen out of his realm, of course. But it is Ortiz's strength, his standing, that commands the house. That, and his .733 batting average. He has 11 hits in the series. No two Red Sox have as many. He had two hits in 22 at-bats in the ALCS, and he was the same guy, because nothing spins faster than he wants it to. So he could make 20 outs in six games against the Detroit Tigers, then come to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and not give that a thought.
He's been around long enough, played in these games enough, won 'em and lost 'em enough, to know he will carve through the commotion. Anyone who'd like to come along is welcome. Take a breath, pick a pitch, and live with the ending. Sometimes it's 2 for 22. But, you know, sometimes it's freakin' 11 for 15, with two homers and two doubles and six RBI, and it's a solid week living on the bat barrel, and it's three – three! – infield singles, and with a little more pitching and a few more hits it's a parade through town.
"What planet is that guy from?" Red Sox catcher David Ross wondered.
Five games into a series that will go at least six, Ortiz has the second highest batting average and on-base percentage – minimum 10 plate appearances – in World Series history. Before flying sharply to center field in the sixth inning – an out Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright celebrated with a long exhale and glance to the skies – Ortiz had reached base in nine consecutive plate appearances, tying the all-time World Series record. Over 13 career World Series games (and at least 50 plate appearances), he has the highest batting average (.476).
[Photos: World Series Game 5 highlights]
"I was born for this," Ortiz said, and he smiled, and it didn't sound like bragging and it didn't sound like a joke. It just is.
He had three more hits in Game 5, two of them off Wainwright. The first drove in Dustin Pedroia from second base. In the first inning, with one out and first base open, nobody would have minded much had Cardinals manager Mike Matheny ordered Ortiz walked. But, no, they'd pitch to him, and Wainwright would throw a first-pitch fastball, and Ortiz would lace it past first base.
The veteran Ryan Dempster has seen hot hitters. He's fueled some and cooled others, but they've come through. Usually for two or three days, not six or seven, but still, they're pretty much human, no matter what Ross thinks.
Asked what it's like to stand out there and not have a clue as to how this at-bat is going to end well for him, and what goes through his mind on those occasions, Dempster said, "How not to insult the guy behind him and intentionally walk him."
Really, on plenty of nights, a hitting tear like Ortiz's is the confluence of the batter's confidence and the pitcher's refusal to submit. Especially when the pitcher is an ace, and when that ace is, say, Wainwright. Discretion may be the better part of valor and all, but it's easy to say when the whole world is leaning in and it's the first inning and you've got your good stuff.
"I don't like walking anybody," Wainwright said. "I mean, you've got a guy on second already, it's the first inning. Made a good pitch. He's just out-of-his-mind hot right now. That was my call before the game. I said, ‘I'm not going to pitch around Ortiz today. I'm going to get him out.'"
"He hit a good pitch," Wainwright said. "Made a good swing."
And the hitting streak lived another day.
Ortiz's final hit bounced sharply into the Cardinals' shift, into short right field, and Ortiz beat the throw from second baseman Matt Carpenter. He hit the bag oddly, and wobbled through the bag, and concerned trainers reported to his side.
Though both ankles were wrapped in ice post-game, perhaps as much a result of three consecutive games playing first base than some traumatic ailment, Ortiz explained simply, "Just getting old, man. Just too much running. … But you've got to do what you've got to do, especially at this stage. The World Series, you've got to help your ballclub to win games. Like they say, no pain, no gain."
He'll go home. He'll be the DH again. Slow it down some more.
See, it is one thing to be hitting .769 in a World Series going on five games old, as Ortiz was by the fourth inning Monday night. It's another to be that productive while carrying eight or nine other guys.
For one thing, when the rest of the Boston Red Sox are batting .132, which they were at that point, the wisdom of offering Ortiz anything but a fastball to the backstop seemed unwise. For another, when the bases are empty when he steps into the batter's box, as they've been for the better parts of the past two games, the defensive shift against him is as precise as the Cardinals have wanted it.
It hasn't mattered. He's just hit. He's chosen his attack, and it's skill and it's being around and it's some luck, and then he's out there on second base waving to his pals, and the Red Sox are pulling away or they're back in it.
So when it is loud in their heads and crazy underfoot, when the moment gets big, and what they really want to know is when the bus leaves?
Well, he just walked out wearing the black suit and the pink shirt.