October 17, 2004. A chilly mid-fall night in the heart of New England. One year, one day after Aaron Boone broke the hearts of Boston fans everywhere, Red Sox Nation faced an embarrassing sweep and elimination at the hands of hated rival New York yet again. Dejected looks painted the faces of 38,000 faithful fans at Fenway Park that night, the Curse of the Bambino doing everything it could to live on. Then, in quite possibly the most famous steal in baseball history, Dave Roberts ended up on 2nd base, setting up a bottom of the 9th run that would tie the game and breath the smallest bit of life into a fan base who had known nothing but disappointment for 86 years.
A 28-year-old David Ortiz stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 12th. It was only his second year with the team, but his nickname "Big Papi" was starting to catch on with baseball fans across the country. With one swing of the bat, Papi drove a ball deep into the Boston night, leaving no doubt in anyone's mind if it would stay in the park or not. One swing to give a chance to a team so desperate to prove they could win. One swing to fill a void in the hearts of Red Sox Nation looking for a hero to bring them a ring.
October 13, 2013. Nine years later. Two championships later. After being nearly no-hit at home in Game 1, facing yet again a dominating pitching performance in Game 2 by Max Scherzer of Detroit, those same dejected faces from 2004 started to form across Fenway faces. The "B Strong" logo engraved in center field appeared now to be nothing more than a symbol of community from the regular season, of a team that came together when the city needed them most, but couldn't deliver when it counted.
A 37-year-old David Ortiz stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 8th. His name now known throughout the baseball world as simply "Papi". In his 11th year with the Red Sox he's hit 373 home runs, 1,191 RBI, appeared in nine All-Star games, and captured the love of baseball fans everywhere. Down 5-1 with the bases loaded, Papi drove a first-pitch fastball deep into the Boston night yet again. A slam so grand it sent Tigers outfielder (and good friend of Papi's) head over heels into the left field bullpen, and 50-year old cop Steve Horgan into a celebration reminiscent of a child on Christmas morning.
I could feel it, as I sat in my living room 103 miles from Yawkey Way. You could feel it in Florida, in California, in Papi's hometown of Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic. Just like in 2004 when he hit the walk-off in the bottom of the 12th, something inside you felt they would beat the Yankees. Just like when they finally did advance to the World Series, something inside you felt like they couldn't lose to the St. Louis Cardinals. And just as that ball landed in the bullpen and sent a crowd into a frenzy, you felt they couldn't lose.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with hair as long as his last name, ripped a base-hit single in the bottom of the 9th to drive in Jonny Gomes and get the walk-off win for the Red Sox. I know, you had the feeling he would do it, too. Instead of heading to Detroit in an 0-2 hole, facing one of the most dominant post-season pitchers of this era in Justin Verlander, that feeling has now returned to the minds and hearts of Boston fans. This time, instead of "maybe this is the year" the thought is now "maybe that's what they needed to do it again".
When Papi was 29, less than a year after the 2004 post-season, where he had two walk-off hits in the ALCS, the Red Sox owners presented him with a plaque proclaiming him "The Greatest Clutch Hitter in the History of the Boston Red Sox". Up until that point, he had earned that title. Eight years later, he lived up to it.
With a country in mourning and a city in disbelief after the marathon bombings this past year, Papi, as only Papi could do, took the microphone on national television and so eloquently claimed "This is our f---ing city!". It's a feeling he's carried with him since the day he put on a Red Sox uniform in 2003. It's a feeling he was able to verbally share with the country after a tragedy to unite a community. It's a feeling he lives with still to this day, and continues to prove it every time he steps up to the plate.