NEW YORK -- New Yorkers said goodbye to David Ortiz on Thursday night, and they did it in style. Before and during Big Papi's last night playing in the Bronx, Yankees fans came through big time.From greetings on the streets of Manhattan to a nice ovation as he came off
NEW YORK -- New Yorkers said goodbye to David Ortiz on Thursday night, and they did it in style. Before and during Big Papi's last night playing in the Bronx, Yankees fans came through big time.
From greetings on the streets of Manhattan to a nice ovation as he came off the field at Yankee Stadium for a pinch-runner after walking in the fourth inning of Boston's 5-1 loss, Papi said he enjoyed every moment of it.
Like Yankees icons Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, who retired before him, Ortiz not only personified the rivalry between the two clubs, but transcended it.
"Impressive, there was no booing out there," Ortiz said afterward with a big laugh. "There's a first time for everything, man. It looks like everybody was happy that I'm leaving."
In all seriousness, as Ortiz's final season has been winding down, there had been much speculation about how Bronx Bombers partisans would react to Ortiz on the occasion of his final road game, the final game of his career at Yankee Stadium.
Like the response two years ago at Fenway Park when Jeter played his final game, fans gave Big Papi a big ovation at the conclusion of Thursday night's pregame ceremony, and that started it all rolling.
"It seemed like he was really touched," said David Cone, the former Yanks pitcher and current baseball analyst, who was part of the ceremony along with the great Rivera, ex-Boston teammate Jacoby Ellsbury and Papi's family.
As parting gifts, the Yankees gave Ortiz a portrait (painted by renowned sports artist Justyn Farano) of him tipping his cap to the Stadium crowd while standing at home plate, plus a leather-bound book of messages from former and current Yanks players and personnel.
As Cone suggested, Ortiz was moved by the gestures.
"It was a great ceremony," Ortiz said. "I'd like to thank the Yankees for taking the time to recognize my career. It was very professional and a very nice ceremony. The book blew my mind. I saw some hand-written notes from some of my ex-teammates and guys I competed against for a long time. It was super nice, super nice."
To be sure, there was a smattering of Red Sox fans decked in red and blue among the crowd of 41,597, but Ortiz again received a loud ovation (with a light mixture of jeers) when he came to bat to open the second against veteran Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia. During the plate appearance, in which Ortiz struck out swinging after hitting a loud liner foul down the right-field line, a portion of the crowd chanted, "Papi, Papi."
It was much like how the Fenway faithful chanted for Jeter long after he was pulled for pinch-runner Brian McCann after the shortstop tapped an infield hit in his final at-bat.
Ortiz also received a nice hand when he walked in the fourth and was replaced on the bases by Brock Holt. And deservedly so.
Before the game, manager John Farrell had said Papi would get two plate appearances, and he was true to his word. The walk came just at the right moment.
"It was perfect," Ortiz said. "I had a good time."
Ortiz has been the ultimate thorn in the Yanks' side over the years. He batted .305 with 58 homers, 188 RBIs and a .968 OPS in 257 regular-season and playoff games against New York.
Big Papi hit 31 of those homers and knocked in 67 of those runs in 116 regular-season games at the two Bronx ballparks.
And with the likes of Manny Ramirez, Mike Napoli and currently Mookie Betts hitting behind him, it's not as if the Yankees could walk him. In 20 seasons playing against him, the Yanks walked Ortiz intentionally only 24 times, once in this series.
"I know he's caused a lot of heartache to us, but I'm sure Red Sox fans would say that Jeter and Mo caused a lot of heartache as well," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who's been part of the rivalry from the Yanks' side as player, coach and manager. "I know at times it becomes a bitter rivalry, but this guy's done a lot of special things in the game, and he's meant a ton to that organization. He's meant a ton to the city of Boston."
Overall, Ortiz, at 40, is having a great season for anyone at any age. With three games to go at home this weekend against Toronto, he's batting .315 with a .402 on-base percentage. Ortiz leads the Major Leagues with a slugging percentage of .620, an OPS of 1.022 and 48 doubles. He also has 37 homers and 124 RBIs.
Before being held to an 0-for-10 with four whiffs and two walks during his final three games this week in New York, Ortiz pretty much had his way with the Yankees this season, hitting six homers, driving in 13 runs and hitting .315 in the first 16 games between the two teams.
Ortiz ultimately helped change the trajectory of the rivalry and is the lone remaining active member of either team who was on the field in 2004 when the Red Sox came back from an 0-3 deficit and won the American League Championship Series in seven games.
The Red Sox swept the Cardinals to win it all that postseason for the first time in 86 years. During the Ortiz era, the Red Sox have won the World Series three times -- with a chance this October of winning a fourth -- while the Yanks have won only once.
But all that was ancient history this week to most New Yorkers.
"Today before coming to the field, I stopped somewhere downtown," Ortiz said. "I had a lot of Yankees fans coming over to me and taking pictures with me, congratulating me on my career. It was very nice. I got to say, when I'm here in New York, I have a good time and everybody is very cool. And people respect what we do."
The good feelings even spilled over to the ballpark for his New York swan song on Thursday night, to Big Papi's surprise and utter delight.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.