David Ortiz went all Winston Churchill on Sunday night and gave the right speech at the right time.
His words pushed the Red Sox to victory, but the speech would have been effective even if Boston didn’t score in the very next inning. Ortiz’s brief huddle had his teammates rapt, as if the group of players that has had no trouble relaxing, keying timely comebacks and playing well in pressure-packed moments all year just needed something other than Shane Victorino’s walk-up music to tell them that everything was going to be all right.
Baseball is a strange sport when it comes to motivation and leadership, with those qualities often not talked about much unless they’re missing (see: 2012 Red Sox). But even a veteran club full of guys who know how to perform was looking for someone otherworldly to show them the way Sunday.
“Otherworldly” describes the World Series version of David Ortiz. He’s always been good at this time of year (a cumulative .436 batting average with 13 RBIs and eight extra-base hits over 12 Fall Classic games in his career), but this World Series he’s been playing above even his own uber-talented head. The series shifting to St. Louis and Ortiz having to defend his spot in the lineup with the designated hitter spot gone has only brought out more, as Ortiz collected half of the Red Sox’ six hits on Sunday night, including a double.
In the World Series so far this year, he’s gone 8-for-11 with two home runs and five RBIs, and his OPS is a disgusting 2.114.
Usually, that’s inspiring enough for the rest of the team. Ortiz cracks a grand slam (or gets close enough that it’s still awesome), and the rest of the team follows through, finishing the job for the win. But this World Series has been especially tight, and it’s been full of the types of errors that are worrisome for a team that needs every pitch, throw and swing to count. From the Little League wishful thinking of throws from behind home plate by Craig Breslow and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to blunders by the usually surehanded Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox have been uncharacteristically shaky — and that’s not even mentioning the trouble they’ve had at the plate. The Detroit Tigers are gone, but the Red Sox’ bats appear to be in shellshock still.
Perhaps that’s why Ortiz, who with fellow leader Dustin Pedroia often talks about just leading by example, decided to pull out his second-best speech of the year. It was an attention-drawer for sure, with Ortiz holding court in the middle of the game and surely upping the ante if his team didn’t respond. But the Red Sox did, and not just when Jonny Gomes went all Jonny Gomes and torched a three-run homer a few minutes later. Boston players couldn’t stop chattering after the game about what Ortiz’s talk had meant to them, assuring that the uptight, pressure-laden versions of themselves that have slowly developed over the tense series would be giving way to the looser, loss-evasive crew that has been World Series or bust for some time now.
“Inspirational,” David Ross said. “He talked and we listened.”
“It was like 24 kindergartners looking up at their teacher,” Gomes said. “He got everyone’s attention.”
“It was meaningful,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s one of the guys that people look up to. Our guys look up to him.”
“He’s got so much history and clout, to be here trying to fight for you, you want to fight for him,” Quintin Berry said. “He was yelling and screaming. It’s a good thing to have that guy leading the charge.”
“It was powerful,” bench coach Torey Lovullo said. “… David doesn’t say things like that very often, but when he does it stops you in your tracks. The timing was perfect.”
“We weren’t the Red Sox,” Daniel Nava said. “We were the Boston Ortizes.”
Ortiz has always been able to lift his team through his slugging, but even one Hall of Fame-worthy World Series line doesn’t guarantee a championship. With his speech, Ortiz has done one better than his otherworldly OPS. He’s reminded all the Red Sox that, as good as he is, he also knows how good they can be.