ST. LOUIS — David Ross’s performance on the field was one thing, his performance off it was World Series-memorable.
The Red Sox catcher sat at the podium in awe of being able to answer questions with the World Series logo behind him. He said he would sit all night, answering question after question if he had to.
When Ross’s time was up he asked if he could sit while Jon Lester and David Ortiz had their turns. Talk about a player who savored the moment and who would never forget that in Game 5 of the 2013 World Series he had two hits and drove in the go-ahead run while orchestrating Jon Lester to a brilliant performance in a 3-1 win over the Cardinals.
We harkened back to last December when Ross was one of seven free agents signed by the Red Sox. Paying a backup catcher $6.2 million for two years? Blasphemy. But it may be the best $6.2 million the Red Sox ever spend.
Ross didn’t have a chance to live up to his billing this season, mostly because he suffered two concussions, missing 78 days. Once the concussion symptoms subsided, David Ross was David Ross again.
“I never thought I’d be here,’’ Ross said. “There were times I was questioning whether my career was over. But thanks to a lot of positive people, good doctors, I’m here. I’m playing in the World Series, so just the whole skit is just — I’m up here talking to you guys, this is pretty cool, right?”
Ross broke open a 1-1 game with a ground-rule double off Adam Wainwright that scored Xander Bogaerts and gave Boston a lead it would not relinquish.
“Yeah, the game-winning hit, that’s nice,” he said. “And just think a little backup curveball that I hit down the line, that felt really good.”
“He came up big tonight,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “He does such a great job running the game. The key double in that seventh inning for the go-ahead run. We’ve talked a lot about how he and Jon have been paired up the last seven times. But he was big for us tonight.”
The Red Sox signed him to be more than a backup. The thought was to play him more than the usual to spell Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Ross has another year left on the deal and he could very well be Boston’s No. 1 catcher next year if Saltalamacchia leaves via free agency.
Ross, at age 36, could handle about 90-100 games. The Red Sox could break in Ryan Lavarnway or another of their young catchers, whom Ross could mentor. Ross’s postseason work has been invaluable. He rarely makes mistakes, and calls a great game.
His movements are all fluid and sure. They have control behind them. You can tell he’s been around the block. He knows the Cardinals hitters very well from having spent time with the Braves backing up Brian McCann. He was the superior receiver in that tandem as well.
Ross has given the Red Sox what they had hoped — a second pitching coach for the staff and a leader in the clubhouse. A pitcher feels confidence when he’s behind the plate and in important games there’s no better feeling.
Here’s what Tom Glavine, who works as an analyst on some Braves telecasts, told me last December:
“There’s no question the pitchers are going to love throwing to him,” Glavine said. “He’s an outstanding defensive catcher who throws about as well as anyone I’ve seen from back there. He shuts down a running game. I’m not saying some of the elite base runners can’t steal off him, but he’ll shut down the other guys. You just don’t see teams crazy about running against him.
“He wasn’t your typical backup catcher where you expected a drop-off [offensively] when he started. It seemed every time he played, David did something offensively to help the team, whether it was a home run or a big game-winning hit or moving the runner.”
Ross has performed exactly the way Glavine said he would.
From the defense, to the hitting, to the signature moment — a game-winning hit in Game 5 of the World Series.
“It definitely hasn’t sunk in,” Ross said. “There’s no way to get too excited because you know you have — we still have a lot of work to do. I won’t let myself get too excited because we know we have a really good team that we still have to beat one more game.
“The signature moment I think is what everyone lives for. But I’m kind of just . . . I’m just in awe of the World Series [logo] being behind me, right. That’s what you see when people are on TV. I’m stoked,” he said as the reporters laughed.
Ross said he’s not a “postseason stud” such as Ortiz.
“I’m not that kind of guy,’’ said Ross. “I don’t feel like I can ever look ahead. I’ve got to work on the day and bring my best that day. And either it’s good enough or it’s not. And then tomorrow I’m going to have to do the same thing. I’m not the type of player who can plan out all of these goals. And that’s probably why it hasn’t sunk in yet of what all this is.
“I’m worried about Game 6 already. There’s a pit in my stomach,” he said.
Yet in the same breath he said he feels no pressure.
“I’m in the World Series,” he said. “There’s a reason why I hit in the 8-hole and the 9-hole. I’m not very good at hitting. I know David [Ortiz] makes it look easy, but it’s work for me. We don’t have these big names at the bottom of the order. But we find a way on a nightly basis to just go up there and do the best we can and make it as hard as possible for the other team to beat us.”
He had his signature moment. And Red Sox management had theirs when they signed him to that two-year deal. He has worn the unsung hero badge with honor.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.