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Big Papi's greatest qualities on display in finale

October 10, 2016

BOSTON -- We didn't need this memory. Lord knows David Ortiz has provided plenty of others in his storied career.This man was one of the smiling faces of that Idiot squad that shook one of the game's unshakable curses. He used five words to sum up a city's defiance in

BOSTON -- We didn't need this memory. Lord knows David Ortiz has provided plenty of others in his storied career.
This man was one of the smiling faces of that Idiot squad that shook one of the game's unshakable curses. He used five words to sum up a city's defiance in the face of terror in 2013 (and we didn't even mind that one of those words was an F-bomb). He was an October legend with a flair for the dramatic. He was an outsized presence on the stat sheet, on your TV screen and in your hopes (for Red Sox fans) or fears (everybody else).
So we didn't need him to make the exit so touching, especially considering Monday's result at Fenway Park, for Big Papi and the Red Sox, was so troubling -- a 4-3 loss that completed the Tribe's three-game sweep.
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But he did.
We'll remember that look in Papi's eyes when what turned out to be his final plate appearance in the eighth inning was a four-pitch walk issued by Cody Allen. The way he strode so slowly to first base and how, for a moment, you thought David Ortiz might become the first Major Leaguer in history to argue with the home-plate umpire about a ball. (He would later explain he was merely trying to pump up the next batter, Hanley Ramirez, in advance of Hanley's RBI single.)
We'll remember what happened when Marco Hernandez came out to relieve him at second base, representing the tying run that never came home. Ortiz pounded on Hernandez's helmet, trying to will all his energy, all his desire into the pinch-runner.
We saw him there on the top step of the dugout, begging for a rally, for a ticket to Game 4, for his very baseball life.
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And then, with the crowd alternating between chants of "Papi! Papi!" and "Thank you, Papi" and "We're not leaving!" we saw him once more. After the team meeting, after his last speech to his mates, Ortiz strode out of the dugout, walked to the pitcher's mound and held his hat aloft with tears in his eyes, as the theme music from "The Natural" played for the darn-near-capacity crowd, which stuck around long after the Indians had taken their celebration to the visitor's clubhouse, and roared for him one last time.
Ortiz said he has had some emotional moments in recent weeks. José Fernández's tragic death shook him. The Red Sox's ceremony in his honor on the last day of the regular season humbled him.
But the finality of standing on that mound -- an unusual place for one of the best designated hitter careers of all-time to end -- was overwhelming.
"When I walk to the mound," Ortiz said, "I realized that it was over. It was pretty much probably the last time as a player [to] walk in front of a crowd. And the emotion came back out again."

The Red Sox got flat-out beat in this series, and Big Papi contributed to Boston's grim result. On the heels of easily the greatest farewell season we've ever seen from an offensive player (40-year-olds don't have any business leading the Majors in OPS), it was stunning, to say the least, to see him go out with a 1-for-9 and just one RBI. You just sort of assumed Big Papi's big bat would come through in the clutch once, twice or a thousand times more. Didn't happen.
Ortiz smacked his hands in frustration when he hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth. He thought the sinking liner would get by center fielder Rajai Davis, but Davis caught it with a running grab below the knee. And the walk in the eighth went against the script, even if the strategy on Allen's part was understandable.

But amidst these disappointments, Ortiz did manage to go down fighting, to remind us that his spirit could not be extinguished, even if his team could.
"That's him, man," a champagne-soaked Mike Napoli said in the visiting clubhouse. "I've seen that myself. I've seen it as a teammate. He wants so much to do it. He wants to be that guy. He knows he can be that guy. That's what he was trying to do, pump up his teammates and the crowd."

On the Boston side, and in the audience, there was disbelief that it was really over.
"Your mind tells you he'll be here when the game ends and he'll be here tomorrow," longtime teammate Dustin Pedroia said. "It's got to end some way. But this is definitely not how we expected it to. It's going to be tough not having him around."
In a predictably long postgame press conference, Ortiz waxed nostalgic and poetic, said he's proud of the way this team rose back to the top of the AL East this season.
But those are ultimately just words.
When Hall of Fame voters have the chance to do the right thing and put him in Cooperstown, they'll see Ortiz won three World Series and retired 10th all-time in doubles, 17th in homers and tied for eighth with Ken Griffey Jr. in extra-base hits.
But that's ultimately just trivia.
Better to remember Ortiz for the passion, presence and personality he brought to this sport -- qualities that were all on display one last time in the final moments of Big Papi's final game.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.