CLEVELAND — The idea came in a hotel bar, as night turned into morning following an off-day workout.
The Red Sox had lost three of the first four games to the Cleveland Indians in the 2007 American League Championship Series. A team that possessed World Series aspirations stood one loss from its demise.
David Ortiz had seen the sagging sense of self-assurance in his teammates. Though they had marched through the regular season with the best record in the AL, they were suddenly confronted with doubt. And so, while enjoying some late-night beverages with members of the clubhouse staff, Ortiz outlined a plan he set into motion prior to Game 5.
"We were down at the bar in Cleveland and he told us everything he was going to say the next day, that he was going to call everybody for a speech. It was cool when he actually did it," recalled Chris Cundiff, a Red Sox clubhouse attendant. "We were down 3-1 and everyone was kind of bummed out. He said he was going to talk to everyone tomorrow after batting practice. 'I'm going to get everyone together.' "
But even before that, Ortiz offered his team an anchor.
"I remember the confidence of him during [batting practice], leading up to the game," said DeMarlo Hale, who served as the Red Sox' third-base coach that season and is now with the Blue Jays. "We saw the confidence. Other guys see that. The thing I remember the most is his calmness."
Then Ortiz delivered a message that inspired not only calm but also swagger.
"When you have 'Red Sox' on your chest," Ortiz reminded his teammates, "you're a bad [expletive]."
His teammates loved it. They celebrated the idea over the remainder of a postseason that saw the Red Sox defeat the Indians the next three games en route to the World Series, where Boston flattened Colorado.
The details of Ortiz's role that postseason are far hazier than for his other title runs. He delivered a "ho-hum" line of .370 with a .508 OBP and .696 slugging mark without a signature on-field moment. The fact that Ortiz did not deliver a walkoff or do something otherworldly, but merely played an enormous role en route to a championship makes that postseason run stand out.
Yet his impact as the vocal soul of a championship team remained undeniable. His efforts inspired his teammates to ignore the laws of probability and overcome tremendously long odds.
Ortiz is now confronted with another such moment. The Red Sox trail the Indians, 2-0, in their best-of-five American League Division Series. This time, the consequences of a failure to forge a three-game winning streak would be the end of Ortiz's career.
At a time when he and his teammates must summon yet another rabbit from a hat, it is worth revisiting some of the prior instances in which Ortiz conjured precisely that sort of postseason magic.
Oct. 5, 2003
Game: ALDS, Game 4 vs. Oakland
Situation: The Red Sox trailed the A's in their best-of-five Division Series, 2-1. In the bottom of the eighth — with Oakland ahead, 4-3, and six outs from winning the series — the A's brought into the game closer Keith Foulke.
Galen Carr, who was then the Red Sox video advance scout and is now director of player personnel with the Dodgers: "I do remember, very distinctly, regarding Foulke in that series, being behind the plate and being dumbfounded as to how, as a hitter, you could hit that guy — dumbfounded as to how you could discern the difference between the fastball and changeup, and the changeup had pretty good movement. I had no idea how anyone could hit him.
"It was one of the few times, behind the plate as an evaluator, where arm speed, action of the pitch, I had no idea how anyone could have any kind of chance against the changeup here when this guy throws a fastball. It wasn't super overpowering. It was command, location, deception. It certainly was impressive."
To that point in the playoffs, Ortiz — after a surprising emergence as an MVP candidate in his first year in Boston — was 0 for 16 with six strikeouts in the series. The A's repeatedly exploited a hole in his swing — belt high, on the hands. With two on and two outs in the eighth, Foulke tried to hit that target. This time, Ortiz got his barrel to it, delivering a full-count two-run double to right field to propel the Sox to a 5-4 victory. That hit stands as the only instance in the postseason in which Ortiz delivered a late-inning hit with the Red Sox trailing that gave them a lead.
Billy McMillon, an outfielder with the A's in 2003 who is now a roving outfield instructor in the Red Sox organization: "David Ortiz killed us. I was talking to my buddy about that just a few days ago. It seemed like he always had the knack for getting the big hit in a big situation. Maybe that started everything for him. He certainly rose to that occasion . . . To lose a heartbreaker in the fourth game and then eventually to lose the series the way we did, it sucked. There's no way to sugar that up. It was lined up for us to win. We just couldn't."
Oct. 8, 2004
Game: ALDS, Game 3, vs. Anaheim
Situation: Up 2-0 on the Angels and looking to close out the series at Fenway, Ortiz helped position the Sox for an easy victory. He claimed three hits (two doubles) in his first five plate appearances. But after the Sox took a 6-1 lead, their bullpen gave it back when the Angels tied the game with a five-run seventh. The game remained knotted until the bottom of the 10th, when Ortiz stepped to the plate with pinch-runner Pokey Reese on first against lefty Jarrod Washburn.
Red Sox staff assistant Matt Noone: "I think we knew how good he was, but he didn't have that body of work. Now, you almost expect it, but back then . . ."
Former Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler, who was ready to enter the game as a pinch-hitter for Trot Nixon behind Ortiz: "My memory is so bad. That time is so blurred. I believe I was standing in the on-deck circle when he hit the home run against Jarrod Washburn in the ALDS at Fenway into the Monster Seats.
"I literally do not remember anything first-hand about the experience of 2003 or 2004. All of it feels like just the recounting of a story. I don't have a clear recollection of it, and I'm not a BS storyteller, so I don't like to make up details as I go. What I remember is an opposite-field home run off of Jarrod Washburn."
Kapler remembers his excitement about the possibility of delivering a momentous hit, which vanished when Ortiz delivered his first postseason walkoff.
That hit was a harbinger, but in many ways a forgotten one. However, Kapler does have a broader impression of that postseason beyond the on-field heroics.
Kapler: "I saw him maintain his humility and continue to be a great friend and teammate through a stretch of success that could have turned others into terribly narcissistic individuals. That's what I remember," said Kapler. "It's the blend of the two — the amazing, jaw-dropping, almost unbelievable accomplishments, almost that were, like, not human, coupled with the way he maintained his composure and humility, being a good teammate and good person."
Kapler's was not the only deeply personal recollection of an Ortiz moment. His hits conjure immediate memories — where people were at a given moment and with whom. With that in mind, Noone recalled that homer against the Angels as the most memorable of Ortiz's October hits.
Noone: "It was the last game my father came here. He was here with a friend. I drove him home. It was the excitement of winning the series, the beer, and then, how Ortiz bailed us out again — we blew a 5-0 lead. It was just, 'Jump on my back, boys.' I got to enjoy it with my dad and it was my first year [working for the Red Sox].
"But there's so many good ones. There's so many good ones."
Oct. 24, 2013
Game: World Series, Game 2 vs. St. Louis
Situation: With the Red Sox up, 1-0, in the World Series, Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha carried a shutout and 1-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning. Ortiz had faced Wacha twice, grounding out to second and then working a walk. With one on and one out, he stepped into the box for the third time.
Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo: "He said, 'Wacha is going to throw me a 3-2 changeup, and I'm going to hit it over the Green Monster for a home run.' David was amazing all year long, did some amazing things, but when it happened and he did exactly what he said, I knew we were talking about one of the best players of all time."
That moment, in Lovullo's eyes, cemented the view of a hitter whose ability to read opposing pitchers is virtually unrivaled — even as opposing pitchers approach him differently than any other member of the lineup.
Lovullo: "It's an incredible feel for what the pitchers' strengths are, how he's going to be worked. David doesn't really participate in our advanced [scouting] meetings because he's on such a different level that what he hears in there never takes place with him. He's worked differently, he's respected differently, teams pitch around him intentionally. Nothing against our guys, but David Ortiz is an elite player where they change their gameplan. It's something he watches, pays attention to, gets into the flow of the game, sees strengths, weaknesses, and understands, 'This is going to happen in this situation.' He is an extremely smart hitter with special gifts to execute a gameplan. He doesn't get enough credit for it. Before I came over here, I just thought he was a slugger. He's a hitting genius.
"When he looks at scouting reports, he looks for very particular things . . . He knows what the weapons are from the opposition, from a pitcher. Once he sees the format, that's when it starts to get really fun to watch."
The Sox eventually lost Game 2, 4-2, but Ortiz did not relent over the remaining five games.
From the other side, pitcher Joe Kelly — the Game 3 starter for St. Louis that year, now a reliever with the Red Sox — didn't have a precise recollection of any individual hit. Instead, his memory is of a hitter who seemingly got a hit any time the Cardinals pitched to him. Ortiz produced a .688/.760/1.188 line with two homers, two doubles, eight walks, and one strikeout in 25 plate appearances for one of the most dominating World Series shows ever.
Kelly: "I just remember that he was dominating. We kept throwing to him. It's baseball. Eventually you should get out. But, he didn't. He was on another level. That's the best I've ever seen anyone hit the baseball — off lefties, off righties, off velo, off off-speed. It was probably one of the best hitting performances ever: opposite-field homers, pulling 97 [m.p.h.] from lefties, hitting off-speed pitches for homers. It was unreal. There was no answer for him. There was really nothing we could do about it, except for walk him every at-bat — and we didn't do that."
Oct. 13, 2013
Game: ALCS, Game 2 vs. Detroit
Situation: Through nearly two games and 16 innings, the Red Sox lineup had seemed completely non-competitive against a loaded Tigers pitching staff. The team was nearly no-hit in a 1-0 loss in Game 1. Then, Max Scherzer didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning of Game 2 as Detroit built a 5-1 lead.
Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe: "We were well on our way to losing that one. What was the score, 5-1 with two outs in the eighth? I don't know what the mathematical chances are, but at that point, it's a tough slog — being down 2-0, with the first two at home, it would be difficult to come back from that."
Red Sox chairman Tom Werner: "We were completely overmatched the first almost two games . . . I remember thinking the Detroit Tigers were such an outstanding team and we just weren't competitive with them."
Dave Dombrowski, then the Tigers president/CEO/GM and now the Sox president of baseball operations, was sitting next to the Tigers dugout at Fenway: "I remember everything about it. It's like a photo in my mind. I remember the whole thing. I remember the score, I remember the scenario . . . Fenway Park was quieter than I've ever seen it in my life going into the start of that inning. You could hear a pin drop basically."
In the start of the eighth, manager Jim Leyland elected to pull Scherzer and turn a four-run lead over to the Tigers bullpen, matching up Jose Veras, Al Alburquerque, and then Drew Smyly against Sox hitters. Against that trio, the Red Sox loaded the bases, bringing Ortiz to the plate. The mounting rally sparked a flicker of hope, but little more.
Cundiff, then a Red Sox bat boy: "If you lost that game, you were going to lose. There was no way we would have beaten Detroit. The pitching was filthy. The offense was filthy . . . I was saying, 'If this guy can walk, and this guy can get a hit, and this guy gets a hit, maybe we can bring up David.' That's what happened — a single here, a single there, then he came up and it was two outs. He came up and I was thinking, 'Just hit a home run here.' "
Instead of summoning lefthander Phil Coke, who was warming, Leyland elected to bring in righthander Joaquin Benoit.
Red Sox manager John Farrell: "At the time, we were surprised Coke didn't come in the game."
In the Red Sox bullpen, the shifting game circumstances necessitated a flurry of activity.
Farrell: "As that inning was unfolding, it started with [Ryan Dempster warming up], went to [Junichi] Tazawa to Koji [Uehara] in a matter of about two and a half minutes as each successive hitter gets on base . . . In between every at-bat, we kept calling down and changing the pitcher because of the sequence of the situations."
After Benoit warmed, Ortiz approached the plate.
Noone, the Sox staff assistant who is also coach Babson College's baseball coach: "As a coach, I've been around it a little bit — his walkup to the plate in that game against Detroit was textbook about confident body language. Everyone knew he was going to hit it. I show clips of him walking up to the plate there and say, 'That's what a champion-quality guy does.' "
Detroit made a resolution prior to the series: Don't let Ortiz beat you.
Dombrowski: "[Benoit] wasn't supposed to give him anything to beat us. We had determined at that point that if we let anyone else beat us, it's not him. If he'd have walked him, we'd have felt comfortable with it. Now if the next guy beat us, that's the way it goes. But he just put a ball in the hitting zone."
Ortiz sat on a first-pitch changeup and was ready when Benoit threw it. He launched a line drive toward the Red Sox bullpen. The crowd exploded. There was suspense while the ball was in flight. Rightfielder Torii Hunter closed the gap with every step.
Dombrowski: "I thought Torii might catch it. I really did think he had a chance."
Werner: "You're saying, 'Oh my gosh, is it possible? Is it possible? Oh no, Hunter has a line on it . . .' "
Confusion reigned among the members of the Red Sox who were focused on getting pitchers prepared to enter the game. Bullpen catchers Mani Martinez and Brian Abraham weren't sure of the score or how many runners were on base.
Martinez: "I was catching Dempster. I never realized the ball was coming to me. I was catching, and everyone was looking. At first, I saw the fans going crazy. Then I saw the guys looking at me. The players were looking at me, then the ball, me, then the ball. It was right to me. I caught it. Then when I put the ball in my pocket, I saw Torii jumping. It scared me. I never expected that . . . I said, 'Hey, buddy, you good? You good?' He was like, 'I'm all right, a little dizzy.' When I caught the ball, I saw everyone jumping, so I looked at the scoreboard right away and was like, 'Oh, wow!' "
Abraham: "I remember our guys in the bullpen on the bench came jumping off the seat. Taz had to stop. I had a look to see what was happening, and next thing I knew, Torii Hunter was coming over the railing . . . I had no idea what was happening, other than everyone standing and the ball was flying over."
The disappearance of Hunter into the bullpen and the sight of bullpen cop Steve Horgan raising his arms in triumph all made clear what had occurred.
Larry Lucchino, then the Red Sox president and CEO: "Once I saw the semaphore sign, I knew what had happened."
Once the ball had found Martinez's mitt — the first time that the longtime bullpen catcher had ever caught a homer on the fly while warming up a pitcher — the bleak 5-1 spread had become a 5-5 tie. A sense of inevitability emerged that the Red Sox would claim a victory. They would head to Detroit with the series tied, 1-1, their hopes of reaching the World Series very much alive.
Dombrowski: "It just went over his glove . . . It broke my heart . . . It changed like that, and it changed the whole series."
Lucchino: "How could he do it again? It's not humanly possible for him to have done it again."
Red Sox president Sam Kennedy: "Literally, the entire postseason changed in that moment. He wanted all eyes on me — he was saying that down in the pregame. He changed the course of history in that one at-bat."
Oct. 17-18, 2004
Games: ALCS, Games 4 and 5 vs. New York
Situations: Really, these two are inseparable given their remarkable pairing in the span of less than 24 hours. Some consider the way that Ortiz ended Game 4 to be the most memorable postseason at-bat of his Red Sox career. Others remember the bleary-eyed Game 5. But the games are far enough removed that it's harder to remember their precise details — they exist as something of a blur, from one into the other.
Entering Game 4, the Red Sox were down, 3-0, in the best-of-seven series after a humiliating 19-8 loss in Game 3. The sense of defeat hung heavy at Fenway, the accumulated weight of 86 years of failure impossible to ignore.
Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek: "We had no momentum."
The Red Sox trailed, 1-0, in the bottom of the fifth when Ortiz's two-run single off Orlando Hernandez gave them a 2-1 lead. The Yankees pushed ahead with a pair of runs in the sixth, and kept their 4-3 advantage into the ninth inning. Remarkably, the Red Sox rallied to tie the game against the greatest closer in history, Mariano Rivera, but a tie game heading into extras represented far from a guarantee.
With Rivera out of the game, Tom Gordon shut down the Sox in the 10th and 11th innings. The Yankees turned to Paul Quantrill for the 12th. The Red Sox saw hope.
Noone: "The reason that was one of my favorites, I sat in on the advance meeting and I remember the hitting coach going through the guys, and specifically saying, 'David, he does not have a pitch to get you out with.' I was so excited to see him come up."
Ortiz often prepared for matchups by reviewing video of the pitchers he'd see prior to the at-bat. With Quantrill, that was unnecessary given the frequency with which the Red Sox and Yankees had played each other.
Red Sox video coordinator Billy Broadbent: "We were past the point where he needed to get more prepared for him."
Quantrill allowed a leadoff single to Manny Ramirez, bringing Ortiz to the plate.
Varitek: "I was hitting behind him, like, 'What are they doing [pitching to Ortiz]?'
With Ortiz at the plate, the righthander elected to throw his signature pitch: A front-door two-seamer meant to start at Ortiz's hip and then clip the inside edge of the plate. Ortiz got his hands inside the ball and drove it into the New York bullpen for his second walkoff of that postseason.
Ortiz: "That's the one at-bat I never forget about. I always look at that at-bat like it was yesterday. When I saw Quantrill coming in, I'm like, 'He's coming with a front-door sinker.' He threw it to me, and I was ready. Your mindset — when it comes down to his game, you can't just play this game with an empty mind. I feel, as a player, whatever you do on the field, when you do it not thinking about it, the only advantage we have as a player is those two seconds to think about things before they happen. After that, you're on your own. If your mind is not in it, whoever is watching from the outside, you can tell. Me, I can tell most of the time when a player wasn't ready for whatever happened. But you also can tell when the players was ready too. You can't play the game thinking about something else. You've got to be 100 percent in it."
Ortiz was in it.
Galen Carr, then the Red Sox' video advance scout and now the Dodgers director of player personnel: "I think about this a lot with Ortiz when you're trying to process how good he's been for so long and how good he is now. You can ask as many questions as you want, but I don't think that gives him enough credit as someone who processes at-bats and knows exactly what he's trying to do at the plate and what to anticipate. The knowledge he brings up there, his approach is unbelievable. I think that's what you were seeing in the postseason that year. 'Hey, this guy's strength is to sink the ball away from me. It's going to go towards my barrel. Instead of me trying to pull it for a groundball, I'm going to go with it to left field.' To stay on that pitch that was coming at your hip — it wasn't a terrible pitch — it's incredible."
Varitek: "It was just like, boom, home run, one piece of momentum . . . Without that, we still sit there without a championship — ever, and maybe still today . . . There's been many more after, but that's in my mind the biggest one."
The Red Sox nonetheless remained down, 3-1, in the best-of-seven ALCS as they took the field for an afternoon contest in Game 5. The tone of the series had changed, if only slightly. That notion became clear to Dave Jauss, the Red Sox' advance scout who was covering the NLCS between the Cardinals and Astros in Houston, as he observed an armada of Yankees scouts who also in Houston for the NLCS.
Jauss: "The Yankee scouts weren't quite as jovial [before Game 5 as they were before Game 4] but they're still excited that they're bringing their reports into New York the next day. 'We have to go see George. He runs the meetings, or observes the meetings.' There was just a little bit of angst but not much."
Red Sox assistant GM Brian O'Halloran: "I remember that [Yankees assistant GM] Jean Afterman was sitting in front of us. We were talking. We get along very well. We were joking around with each other the whole game. Every time we were up, she would turn and say, OK, you guys won, congratulations . . .' Reverse psychology. We would do the same when they were at-bat: 'You guys are going to win it right here.' "
The Red Sox trailed by two runs, 4-2, in the eighth inning before Ortiz jumpstarted them with a solo homer to left-center off Yankees reliever Tom Gordon. A ninth-inning rally tied the game, 4-4.
Jauss: "We tie it up and the jovialness, [Yankees evaluator] Gene Michael leading the group, says, 'Let's get a little more serious.'"
Impossible tension hovered over the next five innings.
Carr was sitting close to O'Halloran. He recalls "sitting behind the plate in the office seats, just the length of game — dragging, dragging, so many ups and downs, Tony Clark's double, [Tim] Wakefield's wild pitches to [Jason] Varitek, all the ups and downs, how late it was getting, how exhausted you felt, how you were going to get yourself up for one more time . . . No one's talking to each other. Everyone's just focused on the game. How can you talk at a moment like that?"
In the 14th inning, the Red Sox couldn't put the ball in play that inning against Yankees reliever Esteban Loaiza. The first four batters of the inning alternated walks and strikeouts before Ortiz stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs.
O'Halloran: "[Loaiza] was pitching his [tail] off. I was thinking, 'How are we going to get this guy?'. . . I remember thinking, 'I don't know how [Ortiz] is going to do it. I don't know how it's going to happen. But he's going to find a way to do it.'"
Carr: "You're hoping the amazing is going to happen but you don't feel right about asking for it again. It would be too incredible, too hard to believe if this happened again on consecutive nights."
After the count went to 2-2, Ortiz fouled off five straight pitches — then-Sox GM Theo Epstein would describe Loaiza's stuff as "nuclear" after the game — before finally hitting a pitch into shallow center for the walkoff hit.
In Houston, Alan Regier was working with Jauss as an advance scout covering the NLCS. He had a transistor radio with him in the stands so that he could listen to the Red Sox game while also watching the Astros and Cardinals. Game updates from the ALCS were being offered on the scoreboard in Houston, but on a slight delay.
Jauss: "Regier pokes me in the side and says, 'Ortiz just won it with a single.' I look at [scouts Mark Wasinger] and Regier, and say, 'Let's take a few pitches off, and look at the Yankee rows in front of us and see what happens.' They don't want to bring back the report after they lose two to George. Sure enough, the score goes up on the board, and all 14 of those scouts, you could just see their heads hang. It was one of the most interesting things to watch."
In Boston, the examination was less clinical. There was insanity on the field, insanity in the stands with the series improbably heading to New York.
O'Halloran: "You try to contain yourself, but you really can't help it in situations like that, especially when it's winning a series. There's a lot of craziness where you lose your normal composure, but you try not to be a jerk about it."
For the Yankees who were involved, the memories remain painful.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman: "Therapy has erased them all. I'll just leave it at that."
The Red Sox were alive. Ortiz had pulled them back from over the edge of a cliff.
Carr: "It was hard to fathom that one person could do that, that the stars could align and that could happen twice . . . The release of those hits — I think it's still more, in many ways, knowing it was going to take us to Yankee Stadium, knowing you had momentum.
"Winning that whole series was getting the monkey off your back, standing on the mound after Game 7 at Yankee Stadium knowing that so many years of frustration were done and knowing that was our World Series . . . Prior to that, all that is hanging in the balance. All that pressure is still on your back. All those bad memories are sitting there. And slowly you're peeling back the layers. Everything that was built into watching those two hits and having that release, it was more than that game at that time."
Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek: "He started a winning dynasty, by his clutch hitting."
Now, the Red Sox once again face elimination — just as they did when winning three straight against the A's in 2003, just as they did when winning four straight against the Yankees in 2004, just as they did when winning three straight against the Indians in 2007, just as they did, functionally, when almost down, 2-0, to the Tigers in 2013.
Ortiz has changed history so many times that it seems impossible to believe all of those October-changing hits could have been delivered by one man. It is even harder to think he might be able to do it again.
Yet in a way, the fact that there is a looming question — but can he? — hovering over a Red Sox team that is down two games to the Indians in the ALDS is in a way the truest testament to his legacy.
Now, he has a chance to add one final chapter to that legacy.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter @alexspeier.