(Note: Strong language in the penultimate paragraph)
By Larry Fine
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - David “Big Papi” Ortiz is flying high at the World Series, wreaking havoc on the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff and delivering a rousing dugout pep talk to inspire his Boston Red Sox teammates.
Boston players expect nothing less from their emotional team leader, who is hell bent on claiming his third World Series ring in 10 years after helping the Red Sox snap an 86-year title drought in 2004.
The stocky, 6-foot-4 Dominican, who joined the Red Sox in 2003 after being released by the Minnesota Twins, has hit 373 home runs in 11 seasons with Boston along with 17 postseason homers.
Four games into this year’s World Series, Ortiz is 8-for-11 with four walks, driven in five runs and scored five, including his 3-for-3 performance in Sunday’s 4-2 victory in Game Four that knotted the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
Yet the personal impact that Ortiz, 37, has on his teammates off the field has been just as impressive as the booming bat he wields at the plate.
“His willingness to help out younger players is better than anybody,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia told Reuters during batting practice at Fenway Park prior to Game Two.
“He’s just a super great guy who cares about everybody. A great teammate, always pulling for us. I can’t say how many times he’s pulled me off to the side just to tell me, ‘man you’re a great player.'”
First baseman Mike Napoli, the second most dangerous slugger for Boston, echoed that praise.
“He’s a great friend to everybody. He cares about everybody, wants to help everybody. Just the things that he does, makes everyone better.”
Napoli often hits behind Ortiz in the order and in his first season with the Red Sox has gotten a first-hand look at the sweet swinging Dominican.
”He’s one of the best in the game. It never seems like he’s overmatched. He gets the job done all the time, he’s clutch,“ Napoli told Reuters. ”We like having him up in big situations and it always seems like he comes through.
“He knows how to use the whole field. He knows when he can drive pitches, he knows when to shoot the other way. It seems he goes up there and what he wants to do, is what he does. He’s not just hitting for power and hitting .250. He’s hitting over .300. That says a lot.”
Ortiz hustled down the line to score on Stephen Drew’s sacrifice fly in the fifth inning to tie Game Four 1-1. Moments later he gathered teammates in the dugout for a pep talk.
“I told them to loosen up. I told them, ‘Don’t do anything more than you’re capable, don’t force things out,'” he told reporters.
“I‘m the veteran dude on this team, that’s why I have to say something. I sensed everyone was feeling down, frustrated, like a sinking boat.”
His teammates got the message.
“Any time this guy opens his mouth, you get everyone’s attention. It was like 24 kindergarteners looking up at their teacher,” said Jonny Gomes, who slugged a three-run homer in the sixth to put Boston ahead for good.
Said Boston manager John Farrell: “Our guys look up to him. And kind of a timely conversation he had with everybody.”
“That’s why we call him Cooperstown,” added catcher David Ross, alluding to the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It was not the first bit of oratory from Ortiz that galvanized the team and Red Sox Nation as well.
At an emotional ceremony honoring victims and first responders of the Boston Marathon bombings at the first Red Sox game at Fenway Park following the tragedy, Ortiz took the microphone at the end to address the crowd.
“This is our fucking city and no one is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”
Strong as Ortiz has remained as a leader of the Red Sox charge on and off the diamond.
Editing by Frank Pingue