So, David Ortiz got shot in his hometown in the Dominican Republic earlier this week. It was initially reported as a robbery attempt, but the surveillance footage has since been released and it is clear that the intent was assassination. It is beyond me why anybody would want to kill Big Papi, but the specifics of what happened that night are not what this blog is about.
The Sox sent a plane down to the DR to bring Papi to Boston to get the best medical care possible, so while he recovers at Mass General I want to take a look back at a few moments that made Big Papi one of the most beloved figures in Boston sports history. The King of Clutch always comes up big when the stakes are high, so we know he’s going come out the other side of this with ease. While we wait for the good news, lets take a look back at one of the most legendary postseason performances of all time.
The legend of David Ortiz had been brewing through the 2004 season, but what he did in that year’s playoff run placed Big Papi amongst the immortals of Boston fan-lore.
After his first season with the Red Sox in 2003, Ortiz returned in ’04 to a team that missed the World Series by about 3 feet (inside the left field foul pole) and were itching to break the 89 year World Series drought. Big Papi took no time to pick up where he left off the season prior, and ended up making his first All Star game after batting .304 with 23 home runs and 78 RBIs in the first half of the season. By season’s end, Ortiz had 41 homers and 139 RBIs while batting .301.
That year Big Papi hit cleanup, with Manny Ramirez, whose name you probably recognize, assuming you don’t literally live under a rock, batted in the three hole. Ramirez hit .308 that season, cranking 43 home runs and putting up 130 RBIs, making Ortiz and Ramirez the only pair of AL teammates to bat above .300 with more than 40 HRs and 100 RBIs since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig did it in 1931. They remain arguably the most potent 3-4 combo of the 21st century, and that season was the start of it all.
American League Divisional Series, 2004
The Red Sox entered into the series as the Wild Card, after coming in second to the Yankees in the AL East. The Sox had made some drastic changes both in the previous offseason and during the regular season, making necessary changes to adapt for the inevitable rematch against the Yankees in the upcoming ALCS. Amongst these changes was trading Nomar Garciaparra in July, which was deeply unpopular. Everybody fucking loved Nomar, he was really good, and trading him in the middle of the season seemed like an all around absurd move.
After the trade, the Sox climbed within two games of the Yankees at the end of the regular season before eventually settling for the Wild Card and making it into the ALDS against the Anaheim Angels, who they chewed up and spat out in a quick three game sweep. The last game of that series was the closest, with the Angels coming back from a five-run deficit to force extra innings (off a grand slam by legacy-laced Vlad Guerrero, because of course). In the bottom of the 10th, a single put Johnny Damon on base and shortly thereafter Big Papi came to the plate. He took the first pitch opposite field, sending it over the Green Monster, and propelling the Red Sox to the American League Championship Series (ALCS) in walk-off fashion.
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Yankees, here we come.
American League Championship Series
The Red Sox and Yankees were the two best teams in the American League, and the baseball gods would have done the world a great disservice by not having them see each other in the ALCS. The series was a rematch from the year before, when Aaron Boone sent the Red Sox packing with a series-winning homer that crushed Bostonian souls, and happens to be the main reason that he’s currently coaching the Yankees (I may be bias, but he’s a shitty coach and would never have been offered the job if he weren’t a Yankee legend).
The first three games of the series were bad news, with the Yankees winning 10-7, 3-1, and 19-8, respectively. The Red Sox were down 0-3, and the prospects were grim. After the third game, the following sentence was published in the Boston Globe: “They are down, 3–0, after last night’s 19–8 rout, and, in this sport, that is an official death sentence. Soon it will be over, and we will spend another dreary winter lamenting this and lamenting that.”
Fuck the Boston Globe.
Game 4 took place at the historic Fenway, and the Yankees took an early lead off a two-run shot by Alex Rodriguez. In the 5th inning, the Sox rallied after Orlando Cabrera singled to right, scoring Kevin Millar. Then, like only a storybook could script, Big Papi found himself at the plate with the bases loaded. Ortiz lined one into center field, scoring two and giving the Red Sox only their second lead of the series, 3-2.
After a two run sixth inning, the Yankees retook the lead at 4-3. Throughout Yankee history, this was a death-nail with #42 in the bullpen. Mariano Rivera came on in the eighth for a two-inning save, but ended up walking Kevin Millar, who was replaced by pinch-runner Dave Roberts. Roberts quickly stole second, and then crossed home on a Bill Mueller single.
Game 4 was going to extra innings.
After a scoreless 10th and 11th inning, Manny Ramirez hit a single in the bottom of the 12th. The entire stadium was on their feet. Why? Big Papi was coming to the plate. For many, it felt like merely a matter of self-respect, the Sox needed to take at least one game of this series to begin the offseason with even the slightest shred of positive morale. No team had ever come back from a 0-3 deficit before, and after all, the Red Sox were a cursed team.
Papi trudges to the plate and the stadium is silent—everyone is locked in.
First pitch: ball.
Second pitch: strike.
Third pitch: ball.
Fourth pitch: ABSOLUTE LASER BEAM INTO RIGHT FIELD. GARY SHEFFIELD IS LOOKING UP, ITS OVER HIS FUCKIN’ HEAD! SEE YOU LATER! THE RED SOX LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY!
While it didn’t seem like much at the time—the Sox were still down 1-3— that moment would be a turning point in the series. Additionally, it made Big Papi the only player ever with two walk-off homers in a single postseason. Game 5 was coming, and there was a glimmer of hope in the back of every Red Sox fan’s mind; a slight, flickering, microscopic glimmer, but a glimmer nonetheless.
Game 5 started with the Sox striking first, and guess who was responsible? David Motherfuckin’ Ortiz, who drove in a run on a single in the first inning, which was followed up by the Yankees pitcher walking in a second run to put the Sox up 2-0. After a solo shot by Bernie Williams in the 6th, and a three-run double by Derek Jeter in the eight, the Sox once again found themselves down late.
Never one to fade when the stakes are the highest, Big Papi blasted a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth to put the Sox within one. A Jason Varitek sacrifice fly eventually scored Dave Roberts, and the game was tied.
Extra innings, here we come…
The 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th innings went by scoreless. Then, in the bottom of the 14th, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez picked up back-to-back walks, bringing Papi to the plate with two on and two out. On a 2-2 count, Papi took a high and tight fastball off the inside of his bat and dropped it in shallow center, scoring Damon and sending the series to game six.
Two elimination games and two walk-off hits for Big Papi; The King Of Clutch had arrived.
Game 6 was the legendary Bloody Sock Game, in which Curt Schilling pitched 7 solid innings—allowing only one run—on an ankle that was so mangled, his sock was soaked in blood by the end of his outing. That game was an absolute fucking spectacle, and if you aren’t privy, check out the highlights below.
The Sox won that one 4-2, but it featured very little Papi, so…onward!
Game 7 was it, the final moment. A game that could be to be the culmination in the greatest series comebacks in the history of baseball, and maybe the greatest series comeback in all of sports; alternatively, it could be a game that the fucking Yankees won. These two teams had been in this exact situation one year ago, and here they were again.
And when everything was on the line, the Red Sox showed up.
First runs of the game? A two run bomb from David Ortiz into right field which opened the floodgates: the Sox would go on to score 4 in the 2nd, 2 in the 4th, and 1 in both the 8th and 9th, winning the game 10-3.
The Boston Red Sox had shocked the fucking world. The most improbable story, from the most improbable team, had just unfolded for the world to see.
The Sox hoisted the ALCS trophy in New York as riots commenced in the streets of Boston. Big Papi, who finished the series with 12 hits, 3 home runs, and 11 RBIs (!!!), was named series MVP, and the Yankees slunk back to the dark, wet, cave where the team spends their offseason sacrificing orphaned babies and cutting the tails off golden retrievers.
With that series win, Big Papi was immortalized; he could have retired at the end of the season and his name would still get a rise of excitement out of anybody who was around during the 2004 season. Papi had been very good during the regular season—All Star caliber, in fact— but what he did in that series redefined the limits of what it meant to be clutch, and now an entire city was forever in his debt.
Ant with that, it was on to the World Series, and the St. Louis Cardinals.
I don’t need to dwell on this World Series for long. Coming off one of the most historic series victories in MLB history, there was no way the Sox were going to lose—and they sure didn’t. The Sox swept the Cardinals in 4 games, Manny Ramirez was named series MVP, and the World Series Trophy made its way back to Boston for the first time in 89 years.
All in all, Ortiz batted .400 in the postseason, with 5 home runs and 23 RBIs, which puts his performance amongst some of the all-time greats. Ortiz would go on to make 9 more All Star games, win two more World Series, and pick up a World Series MVP trophy of his own.
Everything that came after 2004 was great, but there has never been a more iconic postseason run than that team, and none of it would have been possible if David Ortiz wasn’t the King of Clutch. Papi is Boston, it’s as simple as that; his legend looms so large that it transcends sports, he has come to symbolize the gritty, resilient, loyal, and compassionate spirit of the city. There simply will never be another Big Papi, and Boston fans are lucky to have him in our corner.
And 2004 started it all.
Here’s some required viewing (from after the Boston Marathon bombings) to send you off: