BOSTON – The worst of what the St. Louis Cardinals did Wednesday night stood on the top step of the other dugout, the one across Fenway Park from them, and it hoisted its beefy arm to the adoring crowd. This was the seventh inning, by which point the Cardinals perhaps hoped Game 1 would end without further humiliation, without losing another critical player, and with a safe and incident-free bus ride back to the team hotel.
This was David Ortiz, and the people were singing his nickname, and he was smiling, and of all they may or may not have visualized in their re-entry to the World Series, a celebration of Big Papi could only mean that the Cardinals would lose, and they would have themselves to blame for the look of it, but that the Boston Red Sox would have taken it, too.
There, amid the errors, injurious hesitations, and all the imprecision one good team could stuff into nine horrendous innings, stood Papi, a stud at 37. The Cardinals had misplayed a double-play grounder in Ortiz's first at-bat, they'd stumbled and brought Ortiz to the plate with one out instead of two in his second at-bat, he'd singled cleanly in his third at-bat. Then, with two out in the seventh, they'd misplayed a two-out grounder ahead of him, and Ortiz hit the next pitch over the Red Sox bullpen.
"That guy's a god," Red Sox catcher David Ross said. "David Ortiz shows why we call him Cooperstown around here."
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It is one thing to extend innings against the Red Sox, who do a fine enough job of that themselves. It's quite another to keep handing innings to Ortiz, in October. His 16th career postseason home run –taken from him (at great cost to Carlos Beltran) in the second inning – soared into the cool night, and finished a Cardinals team that was fortunate not to have been run off the field hours before.
The Red Sox would win, 8-1. And Ortiz would take his curtain call. He was fresh from his one-pitch at-bat against Kevin Siegrist, the 24-year-old left-hander brought from the bullpen with his upper-90's fastball just for Ortiz. He'd throw the fastball, middle of the strike zone, just hump it past the old guy, except Ortiz was waiting.
The ballpark gun said 96. Another said 97. No matter. The book said Ortiz is vulnerable to lefties, to big fastballs, and that's what Mike Matheny summoned when his team had created for itself yet another soggy moment.
Ortiz was asked what he knew about Kevin Siegrist before Wednesday night.
Maybe he didn't hear the question.
The guy you hit the home run off.
"What did I know?"
What did you know about him?
"I knew he got a good fastball," Ortiz said. "A guy with that kind of fastball you're not going to go looking for a changeup or a slider. You gotta look fastball. And I can still hit fastballs."
He can still hit fastballs, he said. He said it with defiance, like in case you forgot, like he's tired of hearing otherwise, like … any more questions?
He said it like it's personal, especially in October, in this ballpark. He can still hit fastballs, still has the bat speed, still knows a moment when he tastes one.
He'd practically won the ALCS with one swing of the bat, the one the Red Sox absolutely had to have way back in Game 2. He'd come inches from another grand slam Wednesday night off Adam Wainwright's fastball, but that ball had hung up enough for Beltran to bring it back. "Of course," he said, he believed he'd hit that ball out. Five innings later, he said, "I made sure I hit it a little farther."
For one of the more jovial men in uniform, he does not suffer doubters well. And he'll seek them out, hunt them down, get a fastball like Siegrist's and then ask how they like him now.
"He takes a lot of pride in the fact he can still hit a fastball," teammate Daniel Nava said.
Ortiz has batted .311 over the past three seasons and hit 82 home runs in spite of the Achilles' issues that shortened his 2012 season by almost half. He looks the same. And it's been years since anyone wondered if he could still hit, and yet the look is the same when he says, "I can still hit fastballs," as if he assumes people believe otherwise, and it seems to anger him, wound him.