BOSTON — It wasn’t the storybook ending many Red Sox fans envisioned, as David Ortiz didn’t even finish the final game of his career. Yet as has been the case so many times over the years, Big Papi captured the audience’s undivided attention, creating a surreal scene one could only find in Boston.
For a few moments Monday, before the Cleveland Indians defeated the Red Sox 4-3 in Game 3 of the American League Division Series to eliminate Boston from the 2016 Major League Baseball postseason, it looked like the stars were aligning for another vintage Ortiz moment. One of the best clutch hitters in MLB history, Ortiz stepped to the plate representing the tying run as the Red Sox trailed 4-2 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Fenway Park crowd stood as one.
Indians closer Cody Allen proceeded to throw four consecutive balls, walking Ortiz in what ended up being the final plate appearance of the Red Sox designated hitter’s career. Even Ortiz seemed to be hoping for a strike call on the fourth and final pitch, likely so he could take one final cut in the hopes of parking a game-tying home run into the right field bleachers.
“Pitching around him is probably the right play there,” Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts said after the game. “But we were just hoping that (Allen) could leave one, something good for him to handle and he could put a swing on it.
“I think we were all hoping for strike one. I didn’t even take off running because I was hoping he threw a strike.”
Nevertheless, Ortiz took his base. And upon arriving at his destination, he waved his arms in an effort to fire up the Fenway Park crowd. If Ortiz couldn’t do any more damage with his bat, he was hell-bent on doing whatever it took to will the Red Sox to victory with his energy.
Initially, it worked. The crowd responded to Ortiz’s theatrics and Hanley Ramirez singled into left field, plating Betts and cutting Boston’s deficit to one. Red Sox manager John Farrell then called upon Marco Hernandez to pinch run for Ortiz at second base. Ortiz had a brief conversation with the 24-year-old and exited the field, still pumping up the crowd on his way toward the Red Sox’s dugout as the fans chanted “Papi! Papi! Papi!”
“You’re thinking in the moment, ‘Is that the last time he runs off the field if we don’t extend things?’ And the emotion at the time, we’re 180 feet from tying that ballgame up, so the game was still very much in the balance,” Farrell said. “David was doing his best to get the crowd on their feet, which they responded really well. It’s an exciting moment. Playoff baseball, you’re going to get some of those key and pivotal moments late in the ballgame, and that was one of them.”
The eighth-inning rally ended shortly thereafter, as Xander Bogaerts lined out sharply to second base for the frame’s final out. Ortiz was out of the game with the Red Sox down a run, leaving his fate in the hands of his teammates.
Still behind by a run, the Red Sox made noise with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when Jackie Bradley Jr. singled into right field and Dustin Pedroia walked. But Travis Shaw, who worked a fourth consecutive full count against a shaky Allen, couldn’t provide a timely hit. Instead, he flied out to shallow right field, ending the rally and closing the book on Ortiz’s big league career.
A hush fell over Fenway Park as the Indians celebrated their series victory. It didn’t last long, though, as the crowd began chanting for Ortiz to emerge from the dugout one last time. A few minutes later, the fans were granted their wish when Ortiz walked out to the pitcher’s mound to bid farewell.
So, the final chapter officially has been written. The book finally is closed on Ortiz’s career. There wasn’t any more magic left to tap into Monday night, but it’s OK when looking at the bigger picture.
Ortiz provided more magic over the last 14 years than Red Sox fans ever could have imagined.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images