The bell rang just prior to the sixth inning of Game 4. Class was in session.
David Ortiz — a two-time World Series champion, a nine-time All-Star and the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox — decided Sunday that his bat couldn’t do all of the talking. Thus, Ortiz rounded up his teammates for a rare pep talk in the Boston dugout.
“I told them we had been in this situation before and that we had a better team than we had showed,” Ortiz said after the game. “The game’s tough and I know we have better hitters than we had shown. I see guys who dominate good pitching and they haven’t been able to come through. Yeah, [the Cardinals] have good pitching, but they’re throwing the ball over the plate.”
The score was tied 1-1 when Ortiz decided to gather his teammates. It was impossible to pick up Ortiz’s exact words, but the sight of an entire dugout gathered around a 17-year veteran is the type of stuff that’s generally reserved for the big screen. In an age of big contracts, otherworldly star power and an all-too-common trend of players looking out solely for themselves, it takes an extraordinary figure to command the attention and respect that Ortiz garners.
“David Ortiz rallied us together. As far as the message, I think we’ll keep that in-house,” said Jonny Gomes, whose three-run homer helped propel the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory in Game 4. “But I think that just sums up the type of guy he is, the superstar he is, the teammate he is, the passion he has for this game and, obviously, the passion he has for the 24 guys he’s sharing the dugout with right there.”
Ortiz’s teammates seemingly hung on the 37-year-old’s every word. The understanding within the Red Sox’ clubhouse is that Ortiz has been through a lot of wild experiences throughout his illustrious career, and therefore, his wisdom isn’t something that’s to be brushed aside, especially when every little detail becomes that much more important during the World Series.
“Any time this guy steps in the box, there’s a presence,” Gomes said. “Any time this guy puts a uniform on, there’s a presence. And that this guy wants to rally us together for a pep talk, it was like 24 kindergartners looking up at their teacher. He got everyone’s attention and we looked him right in the eyes, and that message was pretty powerful.”
Gomes harnessed the power of Ortiz’s message and used it in his next at-bat. Dustin Pedroia singled with two outs in the sixth inning, and Ortiz walked on four pitches to set up a clash between Gomes and Cardinals reliever Seth Maness. Gomes won the battle by launching a three-run homer over the left field fence that gave the Red Sox a 4-1 lead.
Ortiz was right there to greet Gomes at home plate following the blast, just as he was there to light a fire under his teammates — and, in this case, students — prior to the Red Sox’ set of at-bats. The whole situation again speaks to the weight of Ortiz’s words, as well as the notion that we’re watching one of the most influential players to ever don a Red Sox uniform.
“Any time this guy opens his mouth, it’s like [whoosh-like sound effect], locked in,” Gomes said. “Whatever comes out of his mouth is going to be meaningful, priceless and probably something you don’t know. With that being said, he had everyone’s attention pretty quick and just gave us a little kick in the butt that we needed.”
The Red Sox managed to hold off the Cardinals for the remainder of Game 4. St. Louis scratched across a run in the seventh inning, but John Lackey worked a scoreless eighth inning and Koji Uehara ended the game by picking off pinch runner Kolten Wong at first base.
Ortiz finished the game 3-for-3 with a double, a walk and two runs scored. He scored Boston’s first run of the game on sacrifice fly in the fifth inning and then crossed the plate on Gomes’ game-winning homer in the sixth.
Ortiz’s World Series production continues to be through the roof, as he’s now 8-for-11 with two homers, five RBIs, five runs and four walks in the first four games of the series. When looking back on Ortiz’s Game 4 performance, however, it’s the speech that truly made his effort unique — regardless of its exact impact on the game’s outcome.
”If you think you’re going to get to the World Series every year, you’re wrong, especially playing in the AL East,” Ortiz said. “You know how many people we beat up to get to this stage? A lot of good teams. A lot of good teams. And that doesn’t happen every year.
“I told them, ‘It took me [six] years to get back to this stage. We’ve had better teams than we have right now and we never made it. So, take advantage.”
There were no PowerPoints, cheat sheets or rubrics handed out as part of Ortiz’s sixth-inning lecture — just invaluable lessons from a motivator who knows a thing or two about taking advantage of World Series opportunities.