ST. LOUIS – Team meetings tell a lot about the standings. Clubs that meet regularly lose regularly. The gatherings take on the feel of an unruly kid sitting in the assistant principal's office.
Then there's Sunday night. And Boston's David Oritz. Big Papi delivered a pep talk that could resonate for decades if the Red Sox win their third World Series since 2004.
“There's not another 10 years for me,” Ortiz told a pack of reporters. “How many more chances to I have? That's what I told these guys. You don't get back to the World Series every year. It took me six. So you just don't know.”
The Red Sox dream of going from worst to first seemed fragile with each passing at-bat. The score was tied at one through five innings, but Boston's offense was about as imposing as a dandelion. Ortiz had seen enough. He spontaneously gathered his teammates.
“It was like 24 kindergartners looking up at their teacher,” left fielder Jonny Gomes said. “That message was pretty powerful.”
Ortiz reminded the Red Sox players to be themselves, to return to the approach that vaulted them to this stage. Of course, it wasn't G-rated. Moments later, Cardinals fans' were cursing as Gomes leveled a three-run home run, the decisive swing that evened the series entering Game 5 on Monday night at Busch Stadium.
The success of Ortiz's oratory skills raises the question if this should happen more often. The easy answer is no. Baseball's season runs forever. Talk too much and it becomes background noise. Ortiz's moment worked because it was organic. And novel. The Red Sox didn't a have a team meeting this season.
“I thought the way things were unfolding, it was an appropriate message. It was something unique at this level,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “His message was spot on. ... He wants to be the guy they look toward.”
Sports speeches that inspire take on a life of their own. It's because we only hear of those that work. Covering baseball since 1996, I can tell you far more don't, leading to questions and finger pointing.
With baseball, more than any other spot, timing is everything. There are 162 games. Not 81. Not 16. A confluence of factors came together to prompt Ortiz, providing the perfect platform for Big Papi to become Knute Rockne.
“He knows postseason baseball,” catcher David Ross said. “If he wants to say something, I want to hear it.”
Allen Craig was a late addition to the Cardinals' lineup, convincing manager Mike Matheny he could start at first base despite a nagging foot injury. ... Outfielder Shane Victorino was not in the lineup for a second straight game because of back tightness. ... Harry Connick Jr. drew raves for his soulful, simple anthem. He works for “American Idol,” and yet his version didn't sound like an “American Idol” audition. ... Farrell said that Clay Buchholz (shoulder) could be available to pitch in relief in this series just as starter John Lackey did on Sunday.