Friday, June 03, 2005

'David Ortiz has done it again!'

Call it hyperbole if you wish, attribute it to the overwhelming joy lingering from the Kodak moments captured above. But ask me on a day he goes 0 for 5 and leaves half the roster stranded on the bases, and promise I will tell you then what I'm telling you now: David Ortiz is the best thing to ever happen to the Boston Red Sox.

He's Mo Vaughn with an uncanny knack in the clutch and no strippers-and-bacon-sandwiches baggage. He's Reggie Jackson without being an arrogant, phony $%%#@. He's Dave Henderson with more ability, more pure power, more duende. He is the greatest clutch hitter you, your dad, your granddad, and in all likelihood, your unborn children will ever see. He's Big Papi, larger than life, bigger than the biggest moments.

And even as he delivers time and time again on the field, he delivers just as much off it. Upon signing with the Red Sox in 2003, Ortiz, with an assist from everybody's buddy Kevin Millar, eliminated the cliquish "25 players, 25 cabs" mentality that had plagued the Boston clubhouse for so many years. The pressures of being a Red Sox roll off his broad shoulders. He's a unifying force, with his big grin and bigger personality. He transcends race. He's what this franchise - this city - has always needed.

Hell, why am I spending so many words trying to convince you of the man's value? You watch the games. You care. You know. You've saved the proof, collected it, treasured it - the videos, the keepsakes, the news clippings. You've got the everlasting memories of Ortiz's series-clinching walkoff homer in the ALDS, and his back-to-back game-winning hits when all seemed lost in the ALCS, and his "this one is ours, #$@#@%" homer early in the cathartic Game 7.

And you've got today. It was the closest that old bat Mother Nature has come to offering us an idyllic day in this drizzly, dreary spring. Yet with one mighty swing, Ortiz catapulted us back to the cool nights and warm memories of last fall, when his heroics seemed a daily occurence (and sometimes twice daily). Today's homer run was the fifth walk-off shot of his Red Sox career, including his two last postseason. It felt like his 25th. Doesn't it seem like he does this every few weeks?

This one lacks the historic magnitude of his postseason game-winners, of course, but it's value at this hour can't be overestimated. The Red Sox needed this win. Desperately. The calendar has turned to June, the month when the contenders and pretenders begin to sort themselves out. The Orioles, four games up on the Sox in the AL East and damned intent on proving they'll survive the summer and be a factor come fall, were about to steal a Fenway victory in much the same aggravating manner the old Yankees used to: Fall behind early, get some stellar relief pitching, scratch back with a run here and there, then manufacture the go-ahead run in the ninth. The Sox, 26-22 and damn close to mediocre, were about to piss another ballgame away, and fall five back in the AL East. For the faithful, it was agonizing.

Enter Papi. With two outs in the ninth, Mark Bellhorn standing on second, and Edgar Renteria (who daringly dropped down a bunt single to set the stage) on first, Ortiz clapped his hands and dug in against Orioles closer B.J. Ryan. With the count 3-2, Ryan brought the heat, Ortiz cranked it out faster than it came in, and all heaven broke loose at Fenway.

David Ortiz had done it again.

Now, I'm sure you recognize that last line as Sox radio guy Joe Castiglione's go-to call whenever Ortiz . . . well, does it again. It's used during the intro to each Red Sox broadcast. But today, ol' Castig threw us a changeup after calling the winning blast.

"Big Papi. What a man," he said, hints of wonder and disbelief and admiration in his voice.

Sappy? You bet it was. And damned if it wasn't perfect.

Just like the day, the ending . . . and in a ballgame's biggest moments, the man himself.