ST. LOUIS — David Ortiz knew the answer, but he was holding it, clutching it with a wry smile and a keen, exquisite sense of timing.
What is it about the World Series, someone in the crush of reporters around his locker asked him late Saturday night. Why was he so hot? So focused? So successful? He had just piled on three more hits in three at-bats — a double and two singles — and a walk, and in the midst of it all he delivered a key speech in the dugout that helped stir his Red Sox on to a 4-2 win over the Cardinals.
So, what’s driving him?
“The ring,’’ he said. And that’s all he said, stern of face, looking for a moment as if he would let loose with one of his Big Papi laughs, then deliver a gatling gun of playful, pointed insults at his favorite foils in the media pack. But there was none of it. The ring. That’s all.
He meant it.
“There’s not another 10 years for me,’’ said Ortiz, whose bat is so hot these days he seemingly could use it to crack down the Wall of China, then sweep through Germany and smash to smithereens the remnants of the Berlin Wall. “How many more chances do I have? That’s what I told these guys. You don’t get back to the World Series every year. It took me [six years]. So you don’t know.’’
Ortiz was concerned midway through Game 4. The Sox once more were frozen at the plate in the early going. They had but one hit in the first four innings. The Cards, not crushing the ball themselves, put up a run in the third and looked capable of cashing that in for a 3-1 Series lead. That’s how inept the Sox looked.
“Too many guys looking the wrong way,’’ said Ortiz. He wasn’t talking direction. He was talking wrong from right. He could sense their anxiety, their futility. It was time to say something, time to remind them that seasons are long and careers can be short. And no matter the length of either, there are only so many times a World Series ring is within a couple of victories.
“I’ve been on teams here better than the one we have this year,’’ he said. “And we didn’t win it.’’
So he made that clear. Midway throughout the night, with the full house of Red Hope willing on their Birds, Ortiz called his teammates down the end of the dugout and talked to them. It wasn’t a rant. It wasn’t a revelation, a come-to-Jesus meeting, or a kick in the pants.
In the retelling, Ortiz made it sound almost paternal. Big Papi had to say what he had to say.
“David Ortiz rallied us together,’’ said Jonny Gomes, who connected for the three-run homer in the sixth inning that catapulted the Sox to victory. “As far as the message, I think we’ll keep that in house. But I think it just sums up the type of guy he is, the superstar he is. The teammate he is.’’
According to catcher David Ross, it was the first time Ortiz has done such a thing.
“And if anyone knows about postseason baseball, it’s David Ortiz,’’ said Ross. “If he wants to say something, then I want to hear it, that’s for sure. And he just said, ‘Hey, guys, let’s be ourselves here. Let’s get it going. This is an opportunity that might not come our way.’ He just let us know.”
According to Sox manager John Farrell, who knows he will be managing at least one more game at Fenway this year, Ortiz “had a little talk in the dugout.’’
“He pulled everybody together,’’ noted Farrell. “It was meaningful. He’s the one guy, of the guys that we have — he’s one of the guys that people look up to. Kind of a timely conversation.’’
The ring. Ortiz has two of them. And before he met with the media, he could be heard boasting about them, as he left the shower. “Two of ’em!’’ he bellowed, for all his teammates within earshot to hear. And as if to catch their attention more, or to loosen them some more, he added a bit of foul language as if to festoon those two rings with some jewels of his own.
“Presence,’’ said Gomes. “Any time this guy steps in the box, there’s a presence.’’
And right now, on this stage, no one’s presence is bigger.