Big Papi helps Sox keep pace
Ortiz ties the game in the eighth inning, wins it in the ninth
BOSTON -- Through all the sounds of joy that emanated from Fenway Park after the Red Sox pulled out their most-needed victory of the season, one chant continued to rise above all the others.
"MVP, MVP, MVP," shouted the majority of the 35,345 who hung around for the dramatic end of Thursday's 5-4 walk-off win over the Blue Jays.
Translation: David Ortiz delivered yet again with the game on the line. All he did was crank an equalizing solo homer over the Green Monster in the bottom of the eighth and then win it with an RBI single into left field with one out in the ninth.
With Ortiz playing the leading role again and several other players stepping up, the Red Sox made sure this weekend's three-game series against the Yankees will mean everything it was supposed to.
"I think the best thing that ever happened to this team was winning this game tonight," said Ortiz. "Everybody was on their toes tonight. Everybody was having attitude out there."
It's that time of year.
The 93-66 Red Sox can win the American League East title outright in the unlikely event that they sweep the 94-65 Yankees. The Sox can tie their rivals by taking two out of three. And the Red Sox also remain deadlocked with the Indians in the lead of the Wild Card standings.
Should the Red Sox, Yankees and Indians all finish with identical records -- certainly conceivable at this point -- Boston and New York would settle the AL East on Monday at Yankee Stadium. The loser of that game would play the Indians on Tuesday. Should the Red Sox and Yankees finish in a tie and the Indians drop out of the picture, New York would win the division (based on having a better head-to-head record) and Boston would be in the postseason as the Wild Card team. If the Yankees win the division and the Red Sox and Indians tie for the Wild Card, the Sox would host the Indians in a winner-take-all game on Monday.
Aside from Ortiz's heroics, the other things that helped the Red Sox in this one were ingredients such as grit and confidence. Without both, it's unlikely the Red Sox would have rallied back from an early 4-1 deficit.
"I thought tonight we played with amazing confidence," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "And we were behind. We felt like we were going to win it. I think that's something that's real special about this ballclub."
The point the game could have steamrolled beyond the control of the Red Sox was the top of the fifth, when Frank Catalanotto, who torched Boston in this series, drilled a two-run homer to right to make it a three-run deficit. The Jays then loaded the bases with one out, putting Red Sox starter Matt Clement in a desperate situation. He found a way out, fielding an Alex Rios tapper and then shoveling to Jason Varitek for a critical force at the plate. Clement then retired Gabe Gross on a grounder to first, leaving the Red Sox with hope.
"There were a lot of extraordinary efforts tonight by a lot of people," Francona said. "We got ourselves in a situation where one slipup and we lose."
Instead, they kept chipping away. Manny Ramirez, playing the role of best supporting slugger, hammered a two-run shot to right in the sixth -- No. 42 on the season -- slicing the deficit to 4-3.
"He wants to win," Ortiz said of his close friend. "He's very into it. He comes to the field every day with an unbelievable attitude."
While Ramirez's heroics are all but certain to land him in the Hall of Fame, Red Sox rookie Jonathan Papelbon is just starting out. But still, the Red Sox have given him enormous responsibility and he keeps rewarding them.
|"I've been on teams for three years, and I haven't seen as many clutch hits as he's had this year. ... I can't say enough about the guy. If that's not enough to win the MVP, I don't know what is."|
|-- Matt Clement, on David Ortiz|
"It's awesome," said Clement. "He's very under control. That was, to me, the best he's thrown all year. He was just dialed in and got some huge outs for us in a game where a mistake here or there could have gone the other way."
Then came the bottom of the eighth, when Ortiz led off and pummeled a 2-0 pitch from Vinnie Chulk over the Monster for home run No. 47, allowing him to surpass Jim Rice for the second-highest single-season total in Red Sox history.
It was the 20th time this season Ortiz has either tied the game or put his team ahead with a long ball.
"I've been on teams for three years, and I haven't seen as many clutch hits as he's had this year," said Clement. "What he's done speaks for itself. You saw it last year, and to see it live this year is just tremendous. I can't say enough about the guy. If that's not enough to win the MVP, I don't know what is."
The Red Sox almost didn't need the bottom of the ninth. Ramirez drew a walk following the Ortiz homer and then dove headfirst into third on Jason Varitek's single. While Ramirez ended up being stranded, his hustle was indicative of the way the Red Sox played all night.
It was on to the bottom of the ninth, and the Blue Jays brought on closer Miguel Batista. Johnny Damon ignited the rally with a one-out single to right. Edgar Renteria walked, meaning one swing from Ortiz could end it.
So Ortiz worked the count to 3-2 and did just that, placing one into left, easily scoring Damon from second.
"Well, those are situations that I want to get into, when I have those guys in scoring position," said Ortiz. "Then anything can happen -- especially one out, men on first and second, tie game. You had a good pitcher on the mound, but I'll take my chances."
And then came the MVP chants -- before, during and after the at-bat.
"That sounds good; that kind of puts you in a good mood," said Ortiz. "When you walk [up to] the plate in a situation like that and the crowd starts screaming like that, you feel like Superman. OK, I can't let my people down. I have to come out with something."
Per usual, he did.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.