David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - David Ortiz not only attracts attention, he loves the spotlight right back. On the eve of Monday's potential elimination game, as the Red Sox prepped for what they hoped would be a sweep of this Division Series, the players wore their standard BP uniforms for the workout at Tropicana Field.
Everyone except for Ortiz, that is.
Rather than dress like his teammates in blue and gray, Ortiz was decked out in all black. Yoga pants, sleeveless T-shirt, each ear dotted with large diamonds. When your nickname is Big Papi, you live the part, and Ortiz was made for the October stage.
Already this month, Ortiz is leaving his imprint. A pair of home runs in Saturday's Game 2 victory at Fenway Park was followed by an RBI single Monday that put the Red Sox ahead 3-0 in the fifth inning in Game 3, a 5-4 win for the Rays. In that particular spot, Joe Maddon evidently forgot who he was dealing with.
With two outs and a runner at third base, the sensible call figured to be an intentional walk of Ortiz, and Maddon would then take his chances with Mike Napoli. But the Rays manager chose to let Alex Cobb go after Ortiz, and the result was a line-drive single that sailed through an empty left side of the infield.
For Ortiz, that gave him 50 RBIs in his postseason career, second only to David Justice -- who has 63 -- among lefthanded hitters. On Saturday, Ortiz passed Reggie Jackson, and by the way the Red Sox have been playing lately, it seems that Big Papi will have plenty more games left this October.
"We have pretty much everybody getting things done," Ortiz said. "It's not just one or two guys. This team has been winning games as a group. We have a lot of teams coming in [saying], 'Oh, don't let Big Papi beat you.' But this ain't all about Big Papi. It's about everybody."
But still mostly about Ortiz, who is the franchise's playoff leader in nearly every offensive category, including runs (43), hits (65), doubles (16) and homers (14). As much heartbreak as he's personally delivered to other teams, no player -- well, maybe with the exception of the recently retired Mariano Rivera -- seems to be as universally liked by his peers.
Look at what ultimately happened with the David Price incident from Saturday. Shortly after that game, the overheated Price ripped Ortiz for what he thought was an extended look at his second home run, a soaring fly ball that narrowly made it inside the rightfield foul pole.
But the next day, having had a few hours to simmer down, Price reached out to Ortiz during the break in the series to apologize. Before Monday's game, Price spoke about Ortiz at length, almost as if he were scripting his Hall of Fame induction.
"He's the best DH to ever set foot in this game," Price said. "I don't know if it will ever be matched. Because of what a DH has to go through, and what they have to handle, it's extremely tough. I don't think a lot of people understand how hard the DH position really is."
We could see why Price might apologize, but this felt a little over the top, considering the Rays would be facing the prospect of elimination a few hours later. Maybe Price was trying some reverse psychology on Ortiz, maybe make him feel bad about taking him deep twice already in this series.
"He's somebody that's always smiling," Price said. "He's always having a good time. He's there for his teammates."
But Ortiz wasn't around Monday after the eighth inning, when he drew a leadoff walk, his third of the night, and was removed for pinch runner Quintin Berry. With the score still tied at 3, removing a bat like Ortiz at that point was a gamble, and Berry wound up stranded.
Even so, as a core member of the 2004 champs that rallied back from an 0-3 deficit to stun the Yankees, Ortiz knows how dangerous it is to take any lead for granted. "It's not over," he said going into Game 3. "Being up 2-0 doesn't guarantee anything."
As long as Big Papi is riding shotgun, however, the Red Sox usually like their chances.
They'll need him again Tuesday for another shot at finishing the Rays