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Big Papi’s presence unified Sox and the city

BOSTON — David Ortiz is a legend now in Boston. He’s there with Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski and someday soon, he’ll have his own statue outside Fenway Park just like they do.

You can run down the list of Boston greats like Orr and Russell (who gets a statue today at City Hall Plaza) and Bird and Havlicek and now Brady. But you can’t forget Ortiz.

In one of the greatest championship runs of any American city – eight titles from the four major sports teams since 2001 – Ortiz has become the unquestioned face of a run of success from the Boston Red Sox that generations of their fans could only dream of.

Four-game sweeps of the Cardinals in 2004 and Rockies in 2007. And now, a six-game run past the Cards again that featured an Ortiz performance that rates as one of the best in Series history.

But this one came with the dramatic backdrop of the Marathon bombings. The Red Sox always play for their fanatic followers but never more so than in 2013, when so many of them were wounded physically and emotionally by what happened only a mile or so away from Fenway on Patriots Day.

Five days later, on that incredible April afternoon when the Red Sox and the city decided it was OK for everyone to go back to the ballpark, Ortiz took the microphone and told the fans how important it was that the front of his specially made jersey said “Boston.”

Then he thumbed his nose at the FCC and told the Fenway Faithful – and by extension, the world – that “this is our bleeping city and nobody gonna dictate our freedom.”

The place went crazy. Ask anyone in Boston. They’ll tell you that was a key moment to allow the true healing to begin.

So give some credit to Fox’s Erin Andrews and her producers late Wednesday night. As Ortiz was given the Most Valuable Player Award for the World Series, Andrews handed him the microphone again.

More than six months later, Ortiz had the eyes and ears of Boston and the world and he didn’t disappoint. I was on the field in the media mob at the time, maybe only 20 yards or so from where Ortiz was standing. I was close enough to hear his voice without the microphone.

“This is for you, Boston,” Ortiz screamed as the crowd responded with a full-throated roar that enveloped you from all sides. And how did Ortiz finish his brief remarks? How else?

“This is our woooooooooooooooo city!”

The place howled.

Ortiz batted .688 in the series – when the rest of his team batted just .169. He reached base 19 times in 25 plate appearances, with a record .760 on-base percentage. And let’s not forget there’s no title without his grand slam in Game Two of the ALCS against Detroit.

“Winning this World Series is special,” Ortiz said after midnight Wednesday. “I think it might be the most special out of all the World Series that I have been part of, to be honest with you.”

I’ve been at the last 14 of these Series clinchers. Seven have been won by the home team. None of them can come close to what I saw – and heard – Wednesday night.

From the time the Boston-based Dropkick Murphys quickly transitioned from “and the home of the brave” to a pulsating version of their signature “Shipping Up to Boston,” the place was a howling night-before-Halloween cauldron of noise. For not clinching at home in 95 years, the fans got their money’s worth.

It was the culmination of an incredible worst-to-first run for the Sox. Ortiz tried to keep the team together last year, tried to keep the clubhouse from splitting off against Bobby Valentine.

Then Valentine had the gall to suggest Ortiz himself was shutting it down in the wake of his lingering Achilles issues. Ortiz was furious.

Big Papi couldn’t believe he could be betrayed that way by his own manager. When John Farrell came in over the winter, he quickly started to rebuild bridges with his star. It helped they had a previous relationship from Farrell’s days as the pitching coach under Terry Francona, the manager that helped make Big Papi the larger-than-life persona that he is in New England.

“Like I say since Day One, a body can’t function without having a good head and our manager is outstanding,” Ortiz said. “He showed to all of us since Day One that he was the masterpiece that we need to get to this level. John did such a nice job with all of us. And our focus was coming in and do nothing but play baseball, which is different than last year.”

Farrell made sure this team became about Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, three key guys with rings from 2007, when he was last around the clubhouse.

“The new players came in and they look up to them and their leadership, how they respond to the distractions or the requirements to play successfully here in this city,” Farrell said. “And I think they gave a lot of guys confidence just the way they carry themselves. Yes, they’re successful players, but they remained focused, they push away those distractions, and I think our guys draw a lot of confidence from the way they go about their work.”

Ortiz struck out just seven times in 68 plate appearances this postseason – only once 25 times up during the World Series. That’s an incredible figure for a middle-of-the-order power hitter.

And let’s not forgot what he did in the middle of Game Four, pulling his teammates together for one of the most unique and one-sided dugout sessions baseball has ever seen. He talked. They listened and they didn’t lose again.

The Cardinals, and manager Mike Matheny in particular, didn’t distinguish themselves by letting Ortiz kill them. By Game Six, when they wised up and walked him three times, it was too late.

“I was hitting well, but it wasn’t like I was hitting pitches right down the middle of the plate,” Ortiz said. “They were trying their best to get me out. I was just putting good swings, I was getting away with some swings.”

As the celebration stretched deep into the night, Ortiz wore his trademark aviator goggles in the clubhouse to shield his eyes from the sting of champagne. He let out a roar and the sprays came at him from all directions. He’s going to be 38 in less than a month and, like he told his mates in that dugout in St. Louis, you never know when you get this chance again.

But he’s had three of them in Boston and made good on every one, for a once-cursed team that could never win no matter how great the stars have been. Until he came along.

This really is Big Papi’s bleeping city.

And this really is his bleeping team.