BOSTON -- A day later, Big Papi speaks.
After quickly vacating the Boston Red Sox clubhouse in the wake of his monstrous performance in Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Houston Astros, designated hitter David Ortiz held what amounted to a Sunday morning fireside chat with reporters at Fenway Park.
The slugger -- who homered, tripled in the tying run with two outs in the ninth and won it with an RBI double in the 11th -- was unable to speak with reporters due to his daughter’s birthday party Saturday.
“Everyone was getting prepared [for the party] while we were playing,” he said. “I heard a kid that said, 'Now that you hit a walk-off, we can start the party on time.' I was a little late. You don't want to have your daughter mad at you.”
It’s likely Ortiz was forgiven after his family watched him deliver the equalizer and the knock-out blow before being doused with flour -- courtesy of pitcher Joe Kelly -- and swallowed up by teammates at second base just moments earlier. That scene was played out over and over in New England living rooms -- and is an early favorite for the 40-year-old retiree, who is soaking it all in as a largely youthful lineup brings excitement back to Fenway.
“We play every game like it is going to be the last,” Ortiz said. “Continue coming in with the same approach. I'm super impressed by all of the young kids. They have a great future. I watch them and they are like a group of veterans.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell noted Sunday how long it takes the big man to get ready for games, especially since Achilles issues cropped up in recent years. Ortiz was out of the starting lineup Sunday, having informed his skipper the previous night that he was “feeling it.” Ortiz said the young stars have helped inspire his fast start.
“I just like watching all these young kids being so mature. Watching the way they handle their business is something that has been unbelievable this year,” he said. “A guy like me, that’s really good motivation. These kids are coming in and out every day, they just try to get better. It’s something I love seeing.”
And when Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Travis Shaw seek an example of how to be cool in the clutch, they have perhaps the best example in baseball in Ortiz, who now has 199 career game-winning RBIs.
“He just doesn’t miss. He doesn’t miss in key spots,” Farrell said. “He’s never faced [Astros reliever Michael Feliz] before. Here’s a guy throwing mid- to upper-90s with three pitches, and he saw all three in the at-bat, and hits the third pitch for the game-winning double.
“You just marvel at his hand-eye coordination, you marvel at his strength.”
Despite the heroics Saturday and so many similar moments over the course of Ortiz’s storied career with the Red Sox, he admits to having some nerves in big spots.
“I was telling one of my boys, the at-bat that I hit the triple, I felt the pressure a little bit for some reason. I made the last out the night before and realized I could be the last out again. That hit me. After the first pitch, I just tried to go about my business. The more pressure you put on yourself the worse it can get. It all depends on how you handle hit. You saw how I reacted when I hit the triple. After hitting the double, I knew I wasn't going to be the last out of the game, so I was more relaxed. We had the momentum and we just enjoy it.”
There has been some inevitable talk about Ortiz delaying retirement. It is hard to envision someone walking away after leading the league in slugging (Ortiz entered Sunday tops in the AL at .695) and boasting a remarkable 120 RBIs in his past 128 games.
While Ortiz joked Sunday that the team’s success and its solid young core certainly pulls him back in, he also spoke of a man confident that his team would be left in good hands.
“We are talking about Mookie, Jackie and Xander,” he said. “The A's catcher told me the other day that Bogaerts might be the best hitter in the game. He said that to me as I was walking to the plate. He got a two-strike base hit up the middle and he says that to me. When you hear things like that and think back to a guy who two years ago was trying to make it at the major league level. We are talking about guys in their 20s and not even in their mid-20s. The future is in good hands."
That may be the case, but Ortiz is still owning the present.