Peter Gammons: A deserved celebration and an unforgettable goodbye

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It was one of those BP moments. David Ortiz, as was the team tradition, was finishing up in the last four man hitting group before the Red Sox went to the clubhouse, while Jason Kipnis, part of the Indians first group, was watching until Ortiz stepped out and moved to exchange pleasantries.

No one had to remind Papi that the meaning of the game was, literally, win or go home. Kipnis knew, as did Terry Francona, that while the Indians had won the first two games of the series, that they did not want the Red Sox back in it, the way they came back from elimination in 1999 and 2007; the Indians pre-series plan was to try to win it with their bullpen, and if they had to use Andrew Miller and Cody Allen for 12 or more outs, it would be difficult to use that formula three straight days.

Kipnis walked up to Ortiz, with all due respect, and to lighten the moment reached out for Papi’s hand, shook it, and said, “thanks for letting me watch your last BP.”

Ortiz laughed, of course, and moved on to the rest of the Indians in the meet-and-great line that became his nightly ritual. The game was an hour-and-a-half away and this was the last gasp of normality before the last waltz, a waltz that had concurrent and divergent themes. On the one hand there were the Indians, the team that hadn’t won a world series since 1948, a championship won after beating the Red Sox in a sudden death playoff.

And on the other, there was the spectre of this really being the last ride of David Ortiz, and to happen in the third game of a five game series would be a night when fans would leave Fenway not to “Dirty Water,” but Mozart’s ‘Lacrimosa,” not hot, but dank.

There is so much to celebrate in these Indians, who lost two of their three best starting pitchers and Michael Brantley, their best player, not to mention the return of Terry Francona, who managed the Red Sox to two world championships and is not only arguably only the best manager in franchise history, but a future Hall of Famer. Their front office organizational culture produced Boston’s general manager (Mike Hazen) and manager (John Farrell), the three leaders of the ALCS Blue Jays (Mark Shapiro, Ross Atkins, Ben Cherington), the new Twins President of Baseball Operations (Derek Falvey, like Sam Kennedy a Trinity College giant) and still have two of the brightest, most authentic executives (Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff). The work they have done with a severely limited budget because of the market size and the lowest attendance in the game.

It did not seem fair to think of their late season injuries costing them a chance to get within four wins of the first world series in Cleveland since 1997, and just the second since 1954. They had the home field advantage in this series because they had a better record than Boston. Few fans at Fenway Monday night realize that rookie outfielder Tyler Naquin had an .886 OPS, Carlos Santana .865, Brandon Guyer .907 in 39 games. That Chernoff and Antonetti made the most important pre-deadline trade in acquiring Miller. Or that their double play connection is one of the best, with the electric Francisco Lindor; since he came up on June 14, 2015, the Indians had the fifth best record in baseball.

They scored more runs than any team but…yes…the Red Sox. Analytics rated them the best baserunning team in the league, and their defensive efficiency had them in the top three since Lindor’s arrival. But the injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar had shortened the starting staff. Francona tacked and navigated through the Red Sox lineup in Game One thanks to 85 pitches from Miller and Allen (remember, Miller was a closer in Cleveland, he pitched five times in the ninth inning, 11 in the eight, eight in the seventh, made his first Indians appearance in the sixth and even warmed up in the sixth). Former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber won the second game, then flew with the team to Boston so he could sleep in his own bed in his home in Winchester. Meanwhile Rick Porcello and David Price were just OK, contrary to their seasons’ performance.

Between the scouting and staff preparation, Cleveland’s pitchers executed to near-perfection. They pounded Mookie Betts with four-seamers up and away. They threw everything to Xander Bogaerts, whose legs appeared worn down, especially at the plate. They were cautious with Andrew Benintendi, who they admitted worried them; John Gibbons had said he thought Benintendi made the loudest sound hitting the ball in the league, a sentiment backed by the Indians esteemed pitching coach Mickey Callaway..

And so Monday night game and David Ortiz’s career extension came down to Josh Tomlin, Clay Buchholz and two bullpens. Tomlin, like the rest of the team, is underappreciated. Since season earned run average was hardly that of a third starter, but he is slight, it was a steaming summer, and in the first half of the season he was on his way to the largest workload of his career. Which caught up to him in August, when he was 0-5 and allowed 34 earned runs in 26 1/3 innings, but take away August and Tomlin had the fourth best ERA of any American League starter, 3.11. He is a strike-throwing machine with an 86-88 MPH fastball, a great cutter and curveball which eats lefties, whose OPS against him was 188 points lower that righthanders.

Indeed, Tomlin carved out five innings, essentially putting on his flashing lights when pitching to Ortiz. A two run double by Naquin gave them a 2-0 lead and got them to Miller. Andrew actually gave up the run he inherited from Tomlin, but (Welcome Back) Coco Crisp provided a lead that Miller, Shaw and Allen could tack through.

In the eighth inning a Hanley Ramirez single made it a 4-3 game, and forced Francona to walk Ortiz, which forced Farrell to pinch run Marco Hernandez for Papi. Fifty-six years earlier, Carroll Hardy replaced Ted Williams. Monday, Marco Hernandez was Carroll Hardy.

As Allen staggered through the bottom of the ninth, he got two outs. Then Jackie Bradley, Jr. singled. Dustin Pedroia, who poured out his heart in an incredible night of intense at-bats and diving plays all over the field, worked one more walk. But Allen threw a fastball that Travis Shaw lofted to Lonnie Chisenhall.

Over. And the two trains running were reduced to one, headed to Cleveland to play the dangerous, talented Blue Jays.

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No one really seemed to know how to make this goodbye to Big Papi, and as the Indians rightly, properly celebrated on the Fenway turf as they celebrated on the Yankee Stadium turf after they beat New York in the 2007 ALDS, Red Sox fans, wonderfully denying that there would never be another dramatic David Ortiz act that denied defeat, called him out, where he shed tears standing in the park he so often thrilled.

Several players thought Ortiz seemed exhausted this week; he was 3-for-23 beginning with the clinching loss at the new Yankee Stadium. Understandable. Hey, that final regular season weekend was draining. But it was also necessary, tasteful, thoughtful and what John Henry, Tom Werner and Sam Kennedy felt necessary to remind him and his family that, in Henry and Kennedy’s words, he is the most important person in Red Sox history.

Walking down Brookline Avenue and heading to the Commonwealth Hotel, I thought of the sounds that rang across the Fens after a Wednesday afternoon walkoff off B.J. Ryan, or walking from Fenway to Brookline after the 2013 Torii Hunter home run that reverberated past closing time.

Like anyone who has known the Indians organization the last twenty years, I am delighted for them, and for a city that deserves to be recognized and remember, be it sports or presidential candidates that make us make us want to write in Andrew Miller on election day.

So as we wait for the ALCS, we wait for the video of Boston’s equivalent of Desert Trip, the regular season final weekend for Papi. Let the Indians celebrate, and let New England pass on the memory of Marco Hernandez replacing David Ortiz.

 

Comments

  1. GhostOfFenway says:

    No crying in baseball, that is the unwritten rule… but if you are a Red Sox fan, idk how you were able to follow that rule last night. It wasn’t about the series sweep, the game was irreverent to the final moment, it was thousands of fans refusing to leave and admit that their larger than life leader would never again walk out of that dugout as a player. :.(

    • Stan the Man says:

      I’m with you Ghost, The Red Sox are guilty of a lot of forced ceremony over the years, which can grow tiresome. But that moment was so organic, it was like something out of a movie, reminds me of the end of ‘Little Big League’ (if anyone else other than me saw it), when after losing an elimination game and the season is over, fans refused to leave until Billy would come out a receive thanks for changing the competitive culture of the team.

    • Jared Stevens says:

      that one gave me all the feels. I’ll look back on this and remember the home runs, and the comebacks, and the leader moments, but most of all I will remember the man. Larger than life, the heart-beat. I have never seen a good bye like the one we saw on Monday night, and i don’t know that there is anyone out there that could command such a moment again. Chills just writing this comment. It was more than ok to cry.

  2. ChiefWahoo says:

    Thank you Peter, i know you are from Boston and share the love for David Ortiz that does the City. But you are still able to comprehend the importance this series had for my Indians. Still in search of the first WS celebration in my lifetime, it is nice to see the struggle for a small market team like ours get national recognition. Cause the reality is that the economics of the game are so different than they were in 1997, or even 2007, for that matter, and for us to still be around, given our resources, is an achievement in itself. Having said that, the job is not done till we capture that WS championship.

    • Binyamin K says:

      ChiefWahoo Cleveland fans didn’t come out to support a team that was a division leader much of the year. You had the third worst attendance in all of baseball in what was a magical year for the team. Pathetic. Hopefully the league will wise up and move the team to a city that will support it.

      • ChiefWahoo says:

        There is a reason for that, much like the reason we cannot afford a great team year in and year out… n-oone in this town has money, people are losing their jobs by the bus loads, people cannot afford to go to these games, doesn’t mean we don’t care.

  3. rick cosmo says:

    nice Peter..you’ve spoiled me over the years..i was addicted to your Sunday Globe piece for yrs

    i give Tito more credit than you! down 2 aces, he still won

  4. How can you say Porecello and Price were “OK”, they are in big part the reason why David Ortiz will not be putting on his game jersey ever again. $50 million dedicated to these j’mokes (per year), and we can’t 7 innings and one win combined out of them. That is not “OK” in my book.

  5. I have to admit that I was little upset when I saw this title, as I thought you were talking about the Red Sox celebration of Ortiz, obviously upon reading it was clear you were talking about the Indians’s celebration. Well deserved it was…A big series lies ahead for the Tribe. Like your post earlier this year, it is “Winning time in Cleveland”.