NEW YORK — (Wire Service Report – Special to Digital Sports Desk) – Standing ovations are nothing new for David Ortiz. He received plenty in an awesome 20-year career. But the one he got Tuesday night when he came to bat in the second inning was something very different.
The Boston Red Sox slugger got cheered at Yankee Stadium.
“Impressive. There were no boos out there. It seemed like everybody was happy that I am leaving,” laughed Ortiz, who finishes his last regular season this weekend but has one more trip to the playoffs beginning next week. “First time for everything, man.”
Before New York’s 5-1 victory over the Red Sox, the Yankees feted Big Papi with precision and class in a six-minute ceremony. He and his family were escorted to the area around home plate. Jacoby Ellsbury and David Cone presented him with a leather-bound book of notes from Yankees past and present. Mariano Rivera hit him with a huge embrace and unveiled an oil painting of Ortiz tipping his hat at Yankee Stadium.
The notes from the Yankees — almost all hand-written — congratulated him on a great career.
“It blows my mind, let me tell ya,” Ortiz said. “I saw some handwritten notes from my ex-teammates and guys that I competed against for a long time. It was super-nice.”
Believe this: None of them are sad to see him go. In 14 seasons with the Red Sox, Ortiz shaped baseball’s best rivalry like no player other than Babe Ruth.
Before Ortiz joined Boston prior to the 2003 season, the relationship between the Yankees and Red Sox was more hammer-and-nail than competitive.
The Sox hadn’t won a World Series since 1918 and the Yankees had won 26 in the same time span. And largely, Boston fans looked at the games between the teams with a measure of dread; the number of late-season collapses against the pinstripes were too many to number and headlined by New York’s 1978 win at Fenway Park in a one-game playoff.
The arc of the rivalry was changed in that 2003 season, even though it ended with the Yankees again triumphing over Boston.
In the American League Championship Series, the Sox came back from being down 2-1 and 3-2 to force a Game 7 at Yankee Stadium, and Ortiz appeared to have iced the win for them with a home run off David Wells for a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning. The Yankees scored three times in the bottom of the inning and won on Aaron Boone‘s walk-off homer in the 11th.
Ortiz said he saw a difference in the Red Sox: “Things changed — there was no fear anymore.”
The next year the Red Sox got an ALCS rematch and made history by winning it after losing the first three games. Ortiz turned the tide. He hit a walk-off homer in the 12th inning to decide Game 4 and followed it up in Game 5 with a two-run homer in the eighth and a walk-off RBI single in the 14th inning.
Boston went on to win the World Series, the first of three titles in an impressive 10-year span.
Asked Tuesday what defined his time in the rivalry, Ortiz said, “Definitely winning the 2004 (ALCS). That changed the whole thing — the history, all the years that New England fans had been waiting for us to win a World Series. It kind of (broke) the ceiling, that series. Even how good it was in 2003 though we ended up not winning.”
In an article he penned this week for the Players Tribune, he said the Sox’s “rivalry with the Yankees made me who I am.”
Against the Yankees he hit .303 with 53 home runs, 171 RBIs and a .962 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in regular-season play. In 14 postseason games, he hit .333 with five homers, 17 RBIs and a 1.064 OPS.
“From our standpoint, he’s played the villain role — there’s no doubt about that — extremely well since he’s been there,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said earlier this season.
CC Sabathia struck out Ortiz in that second-inning turn at the plate Thursday.
Ortiz came up again in the fourth and the crowd — many of them Sox fans — chanted “Pa-pi! Pa-pi!” before he drew a five-pitch walk. Boston manager John Farrell lifted him for a pinch runner, and Ortiz got his final Yankee Stadium ovation. Farrell had been inclined to give Ortiz the day off because the Sox clinched the AL East the night before, but said Ortiz felt it “an obligation” to play.
Ortiz has brought out a lot of emotions in his appearances in the Bronx, many of them heartbreaking. But there seemed to be an understanding that because of him, this passionate rivalry was better. It’s the reason the Red Sox celebrated the final appearances of Rivera and Derek Jeter.
“Man, I really appreciate the ceremony,” Ortiz said of the Yankees’ efforts Thursday. “It was very nice, very professional. I never expect anything from anyone, but it’s always an appreciation when somebody takes the time to do something for me.”