Poor David Ortiz. All he had to protect him were his silly little goggles as his teammates ambushed him in the postgame frenzy. A bottle of Great Western here, a bucket of water there, everywhere liquid splashing over him as one teammate after another - from a minimum-salaried rookie to his $160-million pal, Manny Ramirez - paid voracious tribute to the smiling slugger.
And why not? In a blast that may be remembered by the first generation of New Englanders in the 21st century as famously as a previous generation recalls Carlton Fisk’s momentous shot in Game 6 of the ‘75 World Series, Ortiz further emblazoned his image in franchise history by torquing a misplaced slider from Jarrod Washburn over the Monster with two outs in the 10th inning for a two-run shot that catapulted the Sox to an electrifying 8-6 victory over the Angels and a stunning sweep of the best-of-five Division Series.
Splish, splash. Next stop the American League Championship Series against the Yankees or Twins.
“It was a classic from start to finish and a real fitting way for us to get through the first round,” general manager Theo Epstein said amid the sudsy celebration in the Sox clubhouse. “It’s pretty sweet. Now we have two more celebrations to go.”
Ortiz almost seemed to take it in stride amid the postgame mayhem. Johnny Damon set the stage for the winning shot by singling to lead off the 10th against Francisco Rodriguez.
“I was looking for a pitch I could drive and I got it,” Ortiz said, so drenched in suds he could hardly speak. “He threw me a slider he left a little bit high, and here we are.”
Simple enough - until you realize how narrowly they escaped one of the most mortifying postseason losses since, well, last October. After blowing a 6-1 lead in the seventh inning, the Sox flashed their signature resilience to ice their second consecutive trip to the ALCS for the first time since the format began in 1969. The sweep was only their second in 20 postseason series since 1903.
“I was begging,” manager Terry Francona said of watching Ortiz’s drive soar through the night with 35,547 others in the park begging with him. “There was a lot of begging going on.”
The victory allowed the Sox to celebrate clinching their first playoff series at Fenway Park since the 1986 league championship series. But to stage their latest feat, they needed to overcome blowing the largest lead (five runs) by a home team in postseason history.
As Epstein has said often before, “We don’t do anything easy.”
The worm turned on them this time after Bronson Arroyo departed leading, 6-1, with none out and a runner on first in the seventh after a sensational start. On came Mike Myers, who did the Sox no favors by walking the only batter he faced, pinch hitter Jose Molina, to put runners at first and second. Then came Mike Timlin, who promptly retired Curtis Pride for the first out before David Eckstein flared an opposite-field single to right, loading the bases.
Timlin responded by throwing three straight strikes past Chone Figgins. Then he got ahead in the count, 0-and-2, against Darin Erstad before he ultimately lost a seven-pitch showdown to force in a run, making it 6-2.
Still, the champagne chilled. But after Timlin fired a 91-mile-per-hour fastball for a strike on his first pitch to Vladimir Guerrero, he tried to improve his position by coming back with a 92-m.p.h. heater over the heart of the plate.
Bad choice. Guerrero got a bead on it and blasted it into the Sox pen for the tying slam.
“I threw a bad pitch to a really good hitter,” Timlin said. “I had beaten him a couple of times and it was his turn to beat me. That’s why they have averages.”
The devastating shot spoiled a memorable outing by Arroyo, who had surrendered only two runs on three hits and a pair of walks until he handed off to the pen.
“When they came back like that, we kind of were like, `Oh [expletive],’ “ Damon said. “That team is a pain in the butt, but we couldn’t let them win this game. If they won, the momentum would have shifted. We would have to wake up early and play again, and we’re not morning people.”
So they went to work, with Alan Embree getting the Sox out of the seventh before he handed off to Keith Foulke with one out in the eighth. Foulke walked a tightrope, tiptoeing out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth before he passed the torch to Derek Lowe, who escaped a mess with runners at first and third in the 10th.
“We had so many different chances to lose that game,” Epstein said, “but we showed huge heart time and time again.”
Timlin credited the team’s dauntless spirit.
“We have guys who don’t quit and don’t want to lose,” he said. “We’d like to erase a lot of stuff in this city, and with the team we have we have a real good chance to do so.”
Despite riding the 6-1 lead into the seventh inning, the Sox made things more difficult for themselves by stranding 11 runners in the first five innings. But Damon and Ortiz helped them wash away the sour aftertaste in the 10th. After Damon singled leading off, he was erased at second on Mark Bellhorn’s aborted sacrifice. But after Rodriguez fanned Manny Ramirez for the second out, Ortiz worked his magic, knocking in Pokey Reese, who ran for Bellhorn.
The Sox have today off, which meant only one thing last night.
“We’re definitely going to party a little bit,” Damon said.
They return to work Sunday to prepare for the next two rounds, not really concerned about whether they play the Yankees or Twins.
“The only team I want to be facing,” Timlin said, “is the last team in the National League.”