His is a moment to be passed down the generational ladder in Canada, like a happy and wonderful genetic disease. Because of it, he will float above the Canadian ether, bat eternally flipping, forever glowering in opposition. Jose Bautista’s homer in the seventh inning of game five of the American League Division Series against the poor, poor Rangers is one of the greatest moments in Blue Jays history, probably only behind Joe Carter’s World Series winning homer, but maybe not. The Carter homer was a World Series-winning homer, but it didn’t keep Toronto from elimination either. Bautista’s homer did.
The significance of Bautista’s homer is hard to overstate given the drama of the inning, of the series, of the man. But this is a Red Sox site so you know it had to come around to this sooner or later: thanks to Bautista, now Blue Jays fans are starting to understand how Red Sox fans feel about David Ortiz.
I should say this isn’t meant to talk down to Blue Jays fans or devalue what Bautista accomplished for greater Toronto and batflip-kind. He has quite probably been the man to turn baseball around in Toronto, and not just with one well-timed homer, but with his own career renaissance. They say you have to walk a mile in a person’s shoes to understand them, and watching Bautista’s bat explode on the ball and the man explode in the moment, it made me think of the treatise on overcoming adversity that Ortiz has authored in Boston, the moments he’s pulled the Red Sox through, the chains of history he’s brushed aside as if they were nothing because they were nothing to David Ortiz.
A year after joining the organization, one that hadn’t won a World Series in 85 seasons at the time, Ortiz kept the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS with game winning, game-ending hits in both game four and game five. He homered off of Kevin Brown in game seven after Johnny Damon was thrown out at home plate with the all too familiar doom threatening to take hold. But no, because Ortiz wouldn’t let it, crushing the ball into the right-field bleachers off Brown and taking all the pressure off his teammates like stabbing a balloon. Oh, he also won the ’04 Division Series with a two-run homer in the 10th inning after Vlad Guerrero had hit a grand slam to tie the game in the seventh. That’s three game-winning hits, two of them homers, in a six game stretch of playoff games, if you’re the counting sort. Then, if we’re really going to do this, he homered in the first inning of the World Series against the Cardinals, as if to say we’re not done yet. We’re gonna take this whole thing. And all that? That’s just one season.
Ortiz is also the man who hit hit .370 and slugged almost .700 (.696 if you must be exact) during the entire 2007 playoffs. He’s the guy who hit two homers off David Price in 2013 as the Red Sox finally avenged their 2008 loss to Tampa (I still maintain Boston would have beaten Philadelphia that year for their second consecutive World Series title). Also, do you know what David Ortiz did in the 2013 World Series? He slugged .688! No, wait a minute, no he didn’t. That was his batting average. For the entire post-season that year he hit .353/.500/.706. That’s nuts-o numbers off three of the best pitching teams in all of baseball. Remember the grand slam he hit off of Joaquin Benoit? That came after the Red Sox had scored all of one run in the previous 16 innings off Tigers pitching. Boston was supposed to go down two games to none headed back to Detroit for three games, but instead Ortiz tied the game with one swing and provided maybe his most iconic moment as a Red Sox, which as you can see from the above list, is saying something special: that of Torii Hunter’s legs pointed skyward after he’s thrown himself into the bullpen trying and failing to reach Ortiz’s homer juxtaposed with the raised arms of the bullpen cop. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. The statue they make to commemorate that moment is going to be insane!
That was Ortiz, saving the Red Sox from extinction yet again. Except, in baseball it’s either a strike or a ball, it’s never neither. You win or you lose. The game is going into one column no matter how close it is. Ortiz took away a loss, which is something in itself, but he also turned it into a win. The Red Sox went from being far down in the series, likely losers to Detroit, to even again, and even again with Lackey and Lester (god I miss him!) coming up. Like Bautista in that craziest of seventh innings, Ortiz saved his team when they needed him most of all.
Maybe you were watching that Seventh Inning. The crazy up-and-down dryer-spin-cycle of an inning during the elimination game that saw the Texas Rangers go up 3-2 on maybe the most ridiculous play ever, and then had the Blue Jays rally all the way back in the most dramatic way possible. The way the crowd erupted on the contact between ball and Bautista’s bat, the way Bautista threw the chip off his shoulder so forcefully the fans in the front row were lucky it was only metaphorical. It was all so meaningful in the moment. So meaningful that had Bautista been nobody, had he been the 25th man on the roster, he would still have etched himself prominently into Blue Jays history.
When Ortiz comes up in a big spot and succeeds, it’s never beyond our wildest dreams because our wildest dreams are of exactly that, what Ortiz does in real life.
Greatness requires not just the person, but opportunity. Had the Jays traded Bautista to San Diego or someplace equally nondescript in the baseball landscape before he had reached his breakout, the man would have remained the same, but the opportunity wouldn’t have presented itself. The same could be said of Ortiz in a way, though perhaps that’s the difference. Ortiz has done it so often, with such force, with such strength, with such bizarre consistency, it could almost be said that had he signed elsewhere back in 2003 after the Twins committed their original sin, that he would have created the opportunity almost by himself and Red Sox fans would have spent the last decade wondering why we can’t get nice players like that Ortiz guy who signed with the Angels or whatever.
This is the man Red Sox fans know, love, and in the ultimate sign of respect, take for granted. When Ortiz comes up in a big spot and succeeds, it’s never beyond our wildest dreams because our wildest dreams are of exactly that, what Ortiz does in real life. Blue Jays fans’ love for Jose Bautista is real and true, and through it they’re just starting to understand what David Ortiz has done for the Red Sox.