It’s all over. Today is the second day A.D.: After David. As of this writing, the sun was still set to rise in the east, but after the shockwave of the Sox’ quick exit from the playoffs I’d say we’re in trust-but-verify mode. I wouldn’t blame the sun for sleeping in.
The twilight of Big Papi’s career lasted a whole three games. That’s good in some ways and bad in most of them. Mostly it just feels like someone ripped off a giant-band aid off the body politic of Red Sox Nation. It hurts and sucks, but the important part is that the underlying wound has healed after nearly 100 years.
Fifteen years ago, it would have seemed inconceivable for the Sox to reverse the order of things as convincingly as they have done so now, because 15 years ago the Red Sox didn’t have Ortiz. Big Papi did nothing more than heal a century’s worth of pain, not just in 2004, but for a decade afterward. As he learned from Manny Ramirez, it wasn’t just the hit that was important -- the follow-through was where the real power came from.
Ortiz followed through. When he first started planting his back leg in the batter’s box, back in 2003, he gave the entire organization the stability it needed to finally begin sewing up the deepest and most infected cuts in baseball history. More than 10 years later, we can finally take off the bandage and get a good look at the scar without worrying the cut is going to re-open.
It is closed for good because Ortiz closed it for good. He is a legend in his own time with plenty more of it ahead of him. All he needs to do is not screw it up (here’s looking at you, Curt) and he’ll be treated as a miracle worker for the rest of his days.
For the longest time, I thought Pedro Martinez was the one we had been waiting for. In some ways, he was, because in some ways he is the best pitcher of all-time, and one is always waiting for that. Ultimately Pedro was about vengeance: He opened as many wounds as he healed. He was the manifestation of our anger. Big Papi is most certainly not that.
He got angry, sure. Watching Ortiz get mad, which happened often enough, was fun in a way that it wasn’t fun with Pedro. You couldn’t hurt an infuriated Ortiz: He was like a bull in a china shop, while Pedro was the china. Pedro’s fragility was a feature, not a bug. His career was a reminder that beautiful things exist, in many cases, just to be destroyed.
There was nothing beautiful about the “Curse of the Bambino,” and it took power, not beauty, to bring it down, not just in 2004 but for years afterward. In some ways it wasn’t really dead until 2013, when a team nearly entirely disconnected from the 2004 squad put together a miracle run to the title.
All Ortiz did in the 2013 World Series was hit .688/.760/1.188. He was unstoppable, and he basically remained that way for the rest of the career, even if the Red Sox managed to otherwise stop themselves until this year. Finally, in Ortiz’s last year, we had hope that he could help pull us to the title one last time, because why not? What couldn’t Ortiz do, after all?
This, apparently, is what he can’t do. He can absolve a franchise from 100 years’ worth of humiliation and become an international hero, but he can’t overcome the sheer randomness of the best-of-five series -- a randomness that has worked to the Sox’s benefit in the past. He can’t stop us from and unnecessary search for scapegoats today, or from demanding systematic changes in response to 27 innings’ worth of problems. But if we really wanted to heed the lessons of his career, we’d forget all that nonsense. Even now, without him, there’s always next year. That’s all there ever is. He’s the one who showed us next year could always be better than this one. On Day 2, A.D., I still believe it.