ST. LOUIS — Trotting off the field after the fifth inning, David Ortiz felt something was wrong, that something was out of whack with his Boston Red Sox.
So rather than head to the bat rack, Big Papi called a little team meeting. Right there in the dugout during Game 4 of the World Series, to deliver a serious pep talk.
Ortiz said his theme was a simple one: “Have fun, play the game the way you know how.”
That’s not quite how his teammates heard it.
“It was like 24 kindergartners looking up at their teacher. He got everyone’s attention and we looked him right in the eyes,” said Jonny Gomes, who responded with a three-run homer Sunday night to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2. “That message was pretty powerful.”
“Just gave us a little kick in the butt that we needed,” he said.
Ortiz revved up the Red Sox with his bat and bark, helping Boston tie the Series at 2-all.
“I’m the veteran dude on this team, that’s why I have to say something,” he said. “I sensed everyone was feeling down, frustrated, like a sinking boat.”
“I told them, ‘Don’t do anything more than you’re capable, don’t force things out.’ I mean, if you’re a David Ross, don’t try to do things as if you’re David Ortiz,” he said.
Ortiz got three more hits, boosting his stock as an October star. He hollered at his teammates from second base after a double in the fifth, then gathered them the next inning.
“Sometimes you get to this stage and you try to overdo things,” he said. “And it doesn’t work that way.”
“I kept telling my boys … this is the World Series, this is the World Series. You don’t get to this level every day,” he said.
Ortiz hustled home to score a run and even provided a bit of comic relief.
All said, a complete game for the designated hitter-turned-first baseman. And also a pretty impressive Series so far — Ortiz has eight of Boston’s 24 hits, and has reached base in 12 of 16 plate appearances against the St. Louis staff.
“I think they’re all watching and realizing that he’s tough to get out right now,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
At 37, Ortiz is the last Red Sox player left from a historic sweep that ended across the street at the old Busch Stadium exactly nine years ago. He was part of Boston’s sweep in 2007 over Colorado, too.
He also was the only Boston hitter doing any damage for a while.
“I know we were a better team than what we showed,” Ortiz said.
His broken-bat single off Lance Lynn’s leg was the lone Red Sox hit through four innings. So after he opened the fifth with a drive to right-center, Ortiz shouted to teammates on the bench, waving his arms and urging them on.
“Just loosen up and play baseball the way we normally do,” he kept telling his guys.
Moments later, Ortiz lumbered home and scored, tying it at 1 when he was hit by left fielder Matt Holliday’s throw to the plate.
Before the sixth, Ortiz had another stroke of brilliance. He got the Red Sox together for a huddle.
“It was meaningful,” manager John Farrell praised. “Kind of a timely conversation he had with everybody.”
Said pitcher John Lackey: “He’s a guy who’s been here through a lot of stuff. He’s got a couple of rings, he knows what to do this time of year.”
“His voice definitely carries weight, for sure,” he said.
Ortiz did his part at the plate that inning, drawing a two-out walk from Lynn. Gomes followed by greeting reliever Seth Maness with his game-breaking homer for a 4-1 lead.
“David Ortiz rallied us together,” Gomes said.
Ortiz added another single in the eighth and was pulled for a pinch-runner. He is 8 for 11 in this matchup and 17 for 39 overall in the World Series — at .436, he is second among all players with at least 40 plate appearances to Bobby Brown at .439.
“His career shows what he’s done,” Farrell said.
Along with telling his teammates to lighten up, Ortiz showed them how.
In the seventh, Daniel Descalso hit an infield popup to the right side. Ortiz and second baseman Dustin Pedroia both put up their gloves, and the ball drifted into the sky.
The sure-handed Pedroia tracked it the whole way. Ortiz, meanwhile, playfully stood in his spot with his arms in the air and let Pedroia make the catch.
It was the only time Ortiz backed away all night.