SAN DIEGO — The drama, the big home run, all of the things that have punctuated David Ortiz’s glorious career did not materialize in his 10th and final All-Star Game.
Even the word of Jose Fernandez, who had said he would throw Ortiz three 90-miles-per-hour fastballs so he could hit one out in his finale, wound up fizzling. Nevertheless, Ortiz and Fernandez had a lot of fun in a third-inning at-bat that proved to be Ortiz’s final in an All-Star game.
Ortiz lined a one-hopper to first base against National League starter Johnny Cueto in the first inning and walked on a 3-and-2 count against Fernandez.
Fernandez idolized Ortiz as a youngster after Ortiz hit a home run against Cuba in the World Baseball Classic, when Fernandez was 16 years old. In turn, Ortiz said he would like to see Fernandez wearing a Red Sox uniform and help their rotation the second half of the season. If Ortiz was an executive, that would be tampering. Ortiz also reiterated that Toronto DH Edwin Encarnacion, who will be a free agent at the end of the season and who pinch-ran for Ortiz after he walked, would be a good replacement for him as the Sox DH next season.
Yes, Papi was on a roll and in good spirits after he came out of the game.
Fernandez, the ace in his own playoff race with the Marlins in the National League East, said he was watching the WBC game in school in Santa Clara, Cuba, much like when students in Boston-area schools watched the Red Sox in the 1967 World Series.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” Fernandez said of his pitch sequence to Ortiz. “Seeing it so close. The first pitch was a fastball, not a changeup [as Ortiz identified after the game]. It was an amazing experience.”
Fernandez admitted he threw the first pitch so Ortiz could possibly hit it out, but then the competitive juices started to flow and Fernandez was throwing 95-97-m.p.h. fastballs as he normally does.
“At first I was throwing fastballs and I said I have to mix in a curveball here. He took it,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said, “I’m nervous. I was actually pitching to him. I told him it was just great, he signed a jersey I brought for him.”
Fernandez clapped as Ortiz came out of the game to a rousing ovation.
“It was an honor to see a superstar like that who has done so much for so many people to see him in his last All-Star Game. It was a humbling experience to see how times flies by,” said Fernandez, who said the first major league jersey he ever bought was Ortiz’s.
“I was supposed to hit a home run in that second at-bat,” Ortiz said jokingly. “My boy told me he was gonna throw me nothing but fastballs and that first pitch was a changeup. I thought you told me you were gonna throw me nothing but fastballs. What happened here?” Ortiz said.
Ortiz and Fernandez kept smiling at each other during the at-bat and Ortiz kidded that Fernandez told him the catcher was calling the pitches. As it turned out, Ortiz did get a lot of fastballs, except for the slider that came way inside on the 3-and-2 pitch that led to the walk.
Ortiz said he discussed how many at-bats he would get before the game with American League manager Ned Yost.
The plan was if he got on base in his second at-bat, he would leave the game because Ortiz wanted to give Encarnacion his share of at-bats.
Despite the lack of drama on the field, Ortiz was plenty busy before the game. He brought out the lineup card and also addressed the American League team after player association and MLB personnel asked him to, much as Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter had done during their final All-Star Games.
Ortiz said he was nervous because he remembered how great those speeches were. He wanted to emphasize to the players the great sacrifice they had made to be good enough to be All-Stars and how proud they should be.
He was asked about his future and whether he would be sitting on the beach one day and got a call from the Red Sox to come back at midseason.
“There’s no way I’d be on the beach having a beer and decide to go back to the gym and starting all over,” Ortiz said. “The preparation, it takes a lot on my body, which is screaming at me ‘Dude are you going to do this again?’ The Red Sox know they have to bring a force to the middle of the lineup, who better than Edwin Encarnacion?”
But Ortiz didn’t rule out other things, such as staying in the Red Sox organization in some capacity or working in television. He didn’t completely shut the door on playing in the WBC for the Dominican, but even that seems far-fetched.
As for Fernandez, he was diplomatic about Ortiz wanting him on the Red Sox pitching staff. Pedro Martinez had tweeted out something similar last week.
“It’s an honor for Pedro and for David to say that. I think they recognize that I like to compete. I leave my heart out there. I give everything I have. Wherever I’m pitching, I’m going to be doing the best I can,” Fernandez said.
“He could end up being on my staff this year, you never know,” Ortiz said. “I want him in my rotation. We need a little help. Who knows?”
Next year at this time, Ortiz said “I’ll be in Miami [the site of next year’s All-Star Game and where Ortiz is building a new home] watching from outside and cheering,” he said.
Or he’ll be on a beach and the Red Sox will call and he’ll say no. Or, he’ll be watching Fernandez pitching for the Marlins.
What he won’t be doing is wearing a uniform.
One by one, he’s doing things for the last time.
He bid goodbye to the All-Star Game. While he didn’t star, the AL won and for Ortiz, that was enough. He accentuated how important home-field advantage (which the AL now has) is in the World Series. He said the Red Sox have a great chance to get there.
That’s the ending he hopes will send him off once and for all.