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Nothing has changed in nine years, Big Papi is still 'The Man' for Red Sox

ST. LOUIS -- It's still 2004 in David Ortiz's world. Nothing has changed.

Just like nine years ago, he's the Red Sox's biggest threat. Only now, it's not even close. He has no runningmate like Manny Ramirez. In some ways, he's going it almost alone.

Cowboy Up.

It's 2004 ... except the rest of the cowboys from that historic championship team, as you would well imagine, are almost all down now. Or at least they aren't here. He's all that remains.

Pedro Martinez is on a TV set, still amusing us, but this time with verbal fastballs.

Same with Kevin Millar.

Bronson Arroyo and Kevin Youkilis are the only other ones from that great team who haven't retired -- though Youk is closing in on it.

Curt Schilling is a decent announcer and less-than-great entrepreneur.

Ramirez has turned over a couple of new leaves. He's a nice guy who can't play a lick, trying to hang on in Taiwan or the minors.

Which is usually what happens when middle age hits. Ortiz, though, is different. Just like in '04, he's still tormenting the Cardinals. And aren't they glad for that back in Boston?

He is the great threat of this World Series. Ortiz was 3 for 3 in Boston's 4-2 victory in Game 4, and is now 8 for 11 in this World Series that has leaned toward the pitchers, just like this whole postseason has. Had the clutch guy on the other team, Carlos Beltran, not pulled back Ortiz's grand slam bid in Game 1, he would be 9 for 12. Considering the pitching, he has been even better that that.

"When you got it, you got it," Ortiz said to no one in particular in an especially animated postgame session

He is on fire. He gave a midgame speech designed to motivate, and that worked, too. Afterward, he kept it light.

He explained his primping: "Papi's got to look good for the camera."

All eyes were on him when he gathered the troops during the game. He explained the urgency of the situation to his teammates when it was 1-1 halfway through.

Yet he remained relaxed. He was talking trash with everyone who came through first.

"I'm having fun myself," he said.

And why not? Ortiz is up to 17 for 39 in World Series play overall, with 10 walks. If anything, he's getting better.

"He's a stud," Game 4 hero Jonny Gomes said. "That's why we call him 'Cooperstown.'"

Ortiz can do no wrong at the moment.

Believe it or not, one of his three hits in Game 4 was an infield single, which isn't too easy to believe because he runs like he's every bit of 38, maybe even 48. He grounded one off Cardinals starter Lance Lynn, and famously strong-armed catcher Yadier Molina picked up the ball, only to have Big Papi beat the throw to first.

Ortiz keeps doing damage. And he is the guy the Cardinals are trying to avoid. Imagine if they were aiming to pitch to him.

Had the Tigers sidestepped Ortiz, they would still be playing. Ortiz's grand slam off Joaquin Benoit in Game 2 of the ALCS is the biggest hit/play of the Red Sox season. Without it, they're watching the Tigers' no-hit-type pitchers on TV.

The Cardinals have to understand by now it's sometimes best to bypass Ortiz. But not every situation allows that. Right now, the vaunted Cardinals staff is starting to come to grips with just how tough this task is.

"We've got to figure out a new game plan and execute our pitches," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

Sometimes, it's best to pitch around him. Though that doesn't always work, either.

Lynn's four-pitch walk to Ortiz preceded Gomes' game- and World Series-altering three-run home run. Gomes was practically oh for a lifetime in the postseason when he cranked that dinger over Matt Holliday's head into the left-field bullpen, turning this into a potentially classic Series.

It has had everything so far.

A brilliant pitching performance. Some key errors. An overturned call. Obstruction.

Back-to-back upsetting defeats put Boston into a bit of hole against a team, an organization famous for winning the close ones. This one was necessary for Boston. So Ortiz did what he could to lift them. He reached base all four times up in Game 4, with a walk, two singles and a double.

He also provided that in-dugout inspirational speech. That seemed to have worked, too, as Gomes' game-changer came not too long after it, untying a 1-1 game in the sixth inning off Cardinals rookie Seth Maness and guaranteeing the Series would make it out of this perpetually happy baseball town and return to the Back Bay, where the Cardinals will have to try to win it on the road.

Ortiz's message, according to teammates: "Have fun. Play our game. And leave it all out there."

In other words, do as he's doing.

Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo said it was unusual for Ortiz to gather everyone in public like that, calling it a "powerful moment." When Papi speaks, everyone listens, Lovullo said.

"I know we have a better offensive team than we've showed," Ortiz said. "But we were trying to put pressure on ourselves. It doesn't work that way."

The World Series can go quick, if you let it. It was time to take a stand.

"The World Series is not a month, it's about 10 days. You got to bring your 'A' game," Ortiz explained.

That he is doing like almost no one before him. Ortiz is the Barry Bonds of this World Series. He is The Man. Just like nine years ago.

He doesn't look like he's slowing down with the bat one bit. But at 38, he knows this could be his last shot.

"If you think you're going to the World Series every year, you're wrong," he said.

He noted that he has played on better teams that didn't make it this far. But this one is pretty good. And it doesn't stay down for long.

Starter Clay Buchholz, far less than 100 percent, toughed it out for four innings with next to nothing. Felix Doubront pitched another solid two-plus innings, and Game 2 starter John Lackey made his first relief appearance in nine years.

The offense that was baseball's best still isn't fully firing, however. If not for Ortiz, they would be the punchless wonders.

A lineup redrawn without ailing Shane Victorino was a lineup with five postseason home runs going into Game 4 -- every one of them by Ortiz. That's right, the other eight batters combined for zero home runs this October.

He is everything for the Red Sox right now, the whole enchilada. Which is in some ways a dicey spot to be in. As good he is, he could use a little more help.

Jacoby Ellsbury has been getting on base, Dustin Pedroia continues to be scrappy and Xander Bogaerts is remarkable for age 21. But Ortiz is the guy, there's no doubt about that.

Everyone knows it. Game 5 starter Jon Lester, in a fit of polite, suggested Ortiz is playing first base over Mike Napoli maybe partly because Ortiz is left-handed and all the Cardinals starter are righties.

The Red Sox are nothing if not kind. But that was just a changeup.

In reality, Red Sox manager John Farrell knows not to take Ortiz out of the lineup no matter what. If he had to play second or short or third, he would have to be in there.

He has carried the Red Sox this far, and he is the one who could carry them to another title.

Cowboy still up.

 
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