BOSTON – The ball settled into the right fielder’s glove, the Cleveland Indians poured onto the diamond and the Fenway fans fell silent.
Then, slowly from the crowd rose a chant of “Pa-pi!”
Cleveland swept the Red Sox out of the post-season and sent David Ortiz into retirement on Monday night with a 4-3 victory that completed a three-game AL Division Series sweep. But even as the Indians frolicked on the field in their celebratory hats and T-shirts, Boston fans weren’t ready to let their beloved Big Papi go.
“I’m glad he didn’t get a hit to beat us,” manager Terry Francona said after leading the Indians to just the second post-season sweep in franchise history. “I thought it was an honour to be on the field, competing against him in his last game, because he’s truly one of the best. You could tell the way people were hanging around yelling his name and everything. He deserves every bit of that.”
Coco Crisp hit a two-run homer , closer Cody Allen got four outs and the Indians advanced the AL Championship Series for the first time since 2007. That year, they took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against Boston before losing three in a row.
Cleveland also blew a 2-0 lead against Boston in the best-of-five round in 1999.
But this year there would be no fold.
Perhaps inspired by the Cavaliers’ NBA title — the city’s first pro sports championship since 1964 — the Indians shut down Ortiz and the most prolific offence in the league. Rookie Tyler Naquin delivered a two-run single and Josh Tomlin pitched five strong innings for the Indians, who will open the ALCS at home against Toronto on Friday.
Cleveland went 4-3 this year against the wild-card Blue Jays, who swept AL West champion Texas to reach the ALCS for the second straight year.
“Nobody in this clubhouse doubts what we’re what capable of,” reliever Andrew Miller said as music blared and corks popped in the visitors’ clubhouse. “I think we saw in our games in Cleveland how much support we have. It’s a special place to be. I think we have bigger things ahead of us, but it’s not going to be any easier.”
To advance, the Indians had to shut down the most prolific offence in the major leagues and weather the emotional farewell to Ortiz . The Red Sox designated hitter went 1 for 9 in the series, collecting a sacrifice fly in Game 3 before walking on four pitches in his final plate appearance .
Ortiz was lifted for a pinch runner in the eighth and left to a standing ovation.
But that wasn’t enough for the crowd of 39,530 — the largest at Fenway since at least World War II. Chanting “We’re not leaving!” and “Thank you, Pa-pi!” for more than 10 minutes while the Indians celebrated their victory, the crowd finally drew the beloved slugger back onto the field.
Wearing a red warmup and a scowl on his face, Ortiz lumbered out to the mound and tipped his cap in all directions, tapping his heart. Only when the camera zoomed in on him did it become apparent that the frown was not regret over an early post-season exit: Big Papi was crying.
“Tonight when I walked to the mound, I realized that it was over. It was pretty much probably the last time as a player to walk in front of a crowd,” Ortiz told reporters afterward. “And the emotion came back out again.”
After two minutes, Ortiz retired to the dugout and retired for good, ending to a career that brought three World Series titles to Boston and transformed the once-futile franchise into winners.
“I’m happy, not just for me, not just how my career went down, but for the organization, the step that we took, from going from last place to win the division this year,” he told reporters. “Even if things didn’t end up the way we were looking for … it’s like going from bad to good, from day to night.”
Making it their goal to send their beloved Big Papi out as a winner, the Red Sox managed to win the AL East — the second time in four seasons they went from worst to first.
Boston raised fans’ hopes with an 11-game winning streak in September but then lost eight of its last nine games, including the playoffs. After winning the first two games in the best-of-five AL Division Series, and then waiting an extra day because of Sunday’s rainout, the Indians it took a 2-0 lead off Clay Buchholz in the fourth inning on Naquin’s single.
Tomlin gave up Andrew Benintendi’s Green Monster-scraping RBI double in the fifth, which gave some life to the Fenway crowd.
But with one run in, one out, one on and the fans taunting the Indians starter — “Tom-lin! Tom-lin!” — he struck out Sandy Leon on a pitch in the dirt and then Jackie Bradley Jr. grounded out to first. In the sixth, Crisp hit a two-run homer over the left-field wall to make it 4-1.
Buchholz allowed two runs and six hits in four innings, joining David Price and Rick Porcello as post-season losers.
Tomlin allowed two runs on four in five-plus innings. Miller pitched two innings , Bryan Shaw got two outs and Allen came on to face Ortiz with two out and a man on first in the eighth.
After walking on four pitches , Ortiz stood on first and waved his arms at the mostly dormant crowd. The fans rose to cheer for him and stayed there as Hanley Ramirez singled to make it 4-3.
Now representing the tying run at second, Ortiz was lifted for pinch-runner Marco Hernandez, leaving the field to a raucous cheer. But even after coming out of the game, his work wasn’t done: With one foot on the top step of the dugout, he continued to cheer the team on.
Xander Bogaerts hit a hard line drive to second and Ortiz jumped onto the dirt, only to turn around and walk dejectedly back into the dugout when it was caught for the last out.
In the ninth, Jackie Bradley Jr. singled with two out and Dustin Pedroia drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Travis Shaw worked the count full before popping up to end it.
“I was cheering so bad,” Ortiz said. “Once I got out of the game I was screaming at my team to put me back in it. Make me wear this uniform one more day. Because I wasn’t ready to be over with the playoff.”