David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. LOUIS - Will we look back and say that it was David Ortiz's Game 4 dugout speech that saved this World Series for the Red Sox? Or did the latest chapter in the Legend of Big Papi involve nothing more than a case of good timing?
When a manager calls a meeting to motivate his team, maybe to end a losing skid, he'll usually pick a day that an ace is scheduled to start. It's not that he doubts his ability to fix the problem, but why not go with the favorable odds, right?
After all, you're a genius only if the meeting works, and another loss would make it look as if your message bombed. Or even worse, nobody listened.
But when your nickname is Big Papi, you don't have to worry about getting tuned out. And the spontaneous nature of Ortiz's dugout pep rally suggested that this is a guy who knows when and where to get in his teammates' faces.
"David doesn't script much,'' Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "And that certainly wasn't scripted [Sunday] night. I thought the way things were unfolding in that game, it was an appropriate message that he gave. It ends up being a timely one. But even if the sixth inning doesn't unfold as it did, I still thought it was something that's very unique at this level.''
This was Hollywood stuff. Think Gene Hackman on the Hickory High sideline in "Hoosiers.'' Or John Belushi jumping off the couch to rail at the Germans for bombing Pearl Harbor in "Animal House.'' Or any of those video clips you see played at every stadium when it's time to incite the crowd for a ninth-inning comeback.
But Ortiz did it for real. Not content to let his bat do all the talking, he gathered up his teammates near the water cooler before the start of the sixth inning and reminded them what was at stake. That they were better than this, and right now would be a good time to prove it.
"Remember, the World Series is not in months,'' Ortiz said in the clubhouse after Game 4. "It's about 10 days. You've got to bring your A-game every day. It's like I told my teammates, you think you're going to come to the World Series every year, you're wrong. Especially playing in the AL East. You know how many people we beat up to get to this level? A lot of good teams.
"That doesn't happen every year. I told them, it took me five years to get back on this stage and we have a better team than what we have right now and we never made it. Take advantage of being here.''
When the meeting ended, his teammates nodded and the circle broke up. Will Middlebrooks rubbed Ortiz's head. Then the Sox chased Lance Lynn with a two-out rally that ended with Jonny Gomes' tiebreaking three-run homer off Seth Maness.
Coincidence? Don't think so. Lynn had allowed only two hits before the sixth -- both to Ortiz -- and it was Dustin Pedroia's two-out single that opened the door that inning. Lynn obviously pitched around Ortiz, but Maness left a 2-and-2 sinker up to Gomes, who didn't hesitate to credit Big Papi for his game-deciding blast.
"Any time this guy opens his mouth, everyone is locked in,'' Gomes said. "Whatever comes out of his mouth is going to be meaningful, priceless and probably something you don't know. He had everyone's attention pretty quick. And just gave us a little kick in the butt that we needed.''
Some prefer the quiet approach, leading by example, and don't go for rah-rah displays. Yankees captain Derek Jeter has been the face of the franchise's dynastic run, but you don't see him calling huddles in the dugout. At least not anywhere that can be seen on camera.
Different styles but similar results, and winning the game -- along with titles -- is the universal goal. Jeter has five World Series rings. Ortiz has two, and is doing everything he can, saying whatever it takes, to get that third.
After his first two at-bats of Game 5 -- an RBI double in the first inning and a single in the fourth -- Ortiz was batting .769 (10-for-13) with two homers and six RBIs in the Series, so he's fully prepared to do his share of the heavy lifting. But being Big Papi is more than putting up numbers, and judging from Sunday night, his words apparently have as much impact as his bat.