Ortiz's heroics ignited record-setting comeback
NEW YORK -- The biggest comeback in postseason baseball history began when David Ortiz had one of the greatest days in baseball history.
The Boston Red Sox were on the verge of elimination, trailing the New York Yankees 3-0 in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series, when Ortiz hit a game-winning homer in the 12th inning to end the fourth game at 1:22 a.m Monday. In Game 5 -- later that same calendar day -- he fisted a broken-bat blooper into center field in the 14th inning to give the Red Sox another victory.
Ortiz homered again in the clincher on Wednesday night, a two-run shot in the first inning that gave Boston a 2-0 lead and sent them on to a 10-3 victory over the Yankees. With three go-ahead hits, Ortiz was a unanimous choice for ALCS Most Valuable Player.
"He's been a solid rock for us," pitcher Keith Foulke said. "Everybody else in the country might not see it, but we see it. We see it every day."
His teammates call him "Papi" and, to borrow a phrase, he was the Yankees' daddy. In the process, he made Boston forget -- for a moment at least -- the frustration their fathers and grandfathers and, yes, great-grandfathers have felt as Red Sox fans.
"You guys enjoy this," Ortiz told TV cameras broadcasting back to Boston. "You've been waiting for this a long time."
No person ever wins a series by himself, and the Red Sox had other contributors.
Tim Wakefield, who allowed Aaron Boone's clincher last year, gave up a chance to start to pitch whenever the Red Sox needed him; he shut the Yankees down in Game 5 and did mop-up duty in the third game. Keith Foulke pitched six scoreless innings in five appearances.
Mark Bellhorn and Johnny Damon snapped out of their slumps just in time. Curt Schilling's blood-and-guts pitching on Tuesday was for the ages, and Derek Lowe's Wednesday performance may have revived his slumping career.
But by putting the Red Sox ahead in three of their four victories, including two raucous game-enders, Ortiz distanced himself from the MVP competition. In all, he batted .387 in the series with three homers and 11 RBIs.
"This game is not that easy for most of us," team president Larry Lucchino said. "He's got big, broad shoulders and he used them to carry the team, on the field and off the field. He has a big bear-like personality. And he leads the league in hugs."
The Red Sox didn't take much of a gamble when they signed the big Dominican as a free agent before the 2003 season. Giving him short money -- $1.25 million -- they brought him in to fight for playing time at first base with Kevin Millar and Jason Giambi's brother, Jeremy.
Millar proved to be a better fielder, but Ortiz has made himself at home as the designated hitter and as one of the most popular players in the clubhouse. He gets credit from his teammates for keeping them loose when their situation was dire.
On the field, Ortiz gave the Red Sox a .288 average with 31 homers, 39 doubles and 101 RBIs in 128 games last year, good enough to place fifth in the AL MVP voting. He avoided arbitration this winter year by agreeing to a contract worth $4,587,500 and then, in May, signed a two-year $12.5 million extension that makes him one of baseball's biggest bargains.
This year, he had 139 RBIs, 351 total bases and a .603 slugging percentage -- all second in the AL. He tied for second with 41 homers, was third with 47 doubles and fourth with runners in scoring position, batting .350.
His 91 extra-base hits were the most in the AL and second in the history of a franchise that has included MVP-winning sluggers Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Jim Rice and Mo Vaughn. None of those guys ever won the World Series in Boston.
Now Ortiz has a chance.
"You know how long this team and the fans have been waiting for this ballclub ... not just to go to the World Series, but to win the World Series," he said. "And that's one of the big reasons for us to come to the field and represent the way we did the last four games."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press