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Celebrating David Ortiz' greatest moments: "Alright, how we gonna take these motherf***ers down today?"

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David Ortiz made his name against the Yankees, and changed the entire city of Boston in the process.

The first hint that the Yankees were mortal.
The first hint that the Yankees were mortal.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. -Bart Giamatti, The Green Fields of Memory

I'm gonna try to hit the ball over that white fence, all the way to the motherf***ing choo-choo train. -David Ortiz

It may surprise you to learn that Boston has traditionally been associated with a bit of an inferiority complex. The reasons are numerous and complex, but they basically boil down to that substantial metropolis four hours down I-95. Who knew that surrendering to the British for the entire Revolution was the key to world prominence? (Yeah, it's gonna be one of those. I allow myself one moment of crude homerism a year. Welcome.)

The fascinating thing about Boston's traditional and justified envy of New York is that the cultural influence, economic dominance, and just undeniable fact of NYC being a world-class metropolis hasn't factored into the loudest bits. Part of it, I think, is just being realistic, there's little chance that Boston will suddenly become a 20-million strong global metropolis or the center of Western cultural output. The rest is that New York and Boston agree on most things politically, so it's really only the sporting arena that's caused conflict. And because Boston's a baseball town first, last, and always, the fact that the Celtics have always destroyed the Knicks, or that the Bruins and Rangers have been relative equals over the years, never mattered as much as the Yankees' eternal rule over the legend and lore of baseball.

And our writers never, ever, ever let us forget it. Did you know New York started winning World Series titles after the Red Sox traded them Babe Ruth? Did you know that Boston's relative dominance (six AL titles from 1903-1918, five WS wins) ended after that trade? Not, like, immediately after, and not because Boston ever lacked for hitters. And sure, it's possible that a combination of the randomness of baseball and the frankly astonishing racism of Boston's ownership might have been a factor. But a trade of the greatest player in league history to the only stage capable of holding him happened at that moment. So it must be related, because we all understand correlation. Weirdly, though, Shaughnessy never tried to restore the Kaiser to his throne. Royalties weren't as good, I guess, and The Curse of the Hohenzollerns isn't as catchy.

This is all to establish that Boston's baseball fans had, heading into 2003, what can only be described as an unhealthy obsession with our team's success relative to the Yankees. Every matchup was world-historical, to us. We'll leave discussions of whether that made us fairly small-time until later, but we'll say simply that it's true. April, June, September; down five games, up five games; games against the Yankees mattered. And that's where we were heading into a July 4th series in 2003, four games behind New York for the AL East lead, with a new DH in the lineup.

2003 was a strange year. The second year under new ownership, it saw the hiring of the youngest GM in league history, a local kid named Theo Epstein. He'd spent the offseason acquiring undervalued talent, including former Twins 1B/DH David Ortiz. Ortiz didn't start right away, with DH time going to Jeremy Giambi and Shea Hillenbrand. (If ever you want to really consider the judgment of Boston's fandom/sports chatters, most of 2002 was spent debating whether Hillenbrand or Alfonso Soriano was the more promising rookie.) Hillenbrand was traded and Giambi benched, and so it was Ortiz's turn.

He was fine. Boston had certainly had worse DHs, and they'd had better. And so the Sox went to New York, with Ortiz penciled in 6th to face David Wells and Roger Clemens. 18 innings, 20 runs, and four Ortiz home runs later, the Sox had cut the Yankees' division lead in half. They lost the next two games, with Andy Pettitte doing his usual stopper thing and Mike Mussina dueling Pedro Martinez to a draw that Byung-Hyun Kim would cough up. But Ortiz had established himself as a weapon. Those were his sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth home runs as a Red Sox player. He's hit 472 since. It's a fair question to wonder, given the split time going into July, whether he'd have stayed here without that series.

It's not simply that Ortiz hit the Yankees hard in a single midseason series that was notable. It's how honestly nonchalant he was about it. Thirteen years later, I can still recall how confident he looked at the plate, how clear it was that even with the division lead on the line, it was one at-bat. The weight of history didn't matter. Just like it wouldn't that October when he hit two HR in the ALCS. Or the year after that, when he walked off against the Yankees on consecutive nights to start Boston's march toward their first post-Romanov title. One at-bat, one pitcher to beat, one game to win. No baggage, no desperation. "How are we gonna take these motherf***ers down today?"

David Ortiz normalized baseball in this town. There's no other way to put it. That Bart Giamatti quote at the top? That's really, truly how we thought of things. Baseball as penance, with the Yankees as the angry confessional priest. And then, by chance, a dash of Pedro, and Minnesota being dumb, Boston acquired a man with the bat, the smile, and the sheer balls to remind us that it's a game. That it's supposed to be fun, that occasionally the long march of a season can end with hugs and drinking and a parade. And that even if it doesn't, we got to spend three hours every night, all summer long, not thinking about work.

If there's a single phrase to sum up the Ortiz Era in Boston, it's "relax, I got this." We never worried with Papi at the plate. He didn't always come through, because that's how this game works. But as soon as you saw that big dude in the box, 34 on his back, eye on the pitcher, bat cocked and ready, you stopped worrying. There was a chance. There was hope. That's part of what made him so important in 2013, the reason they gave him the mic at Boston's first home game after the marathon bombing. Because the team knew that he'd do exactly what we needed. And he did. In our famously, painfully, brutally provincial city, the sentiments of everyone born here were summed up by a man who'd come here from the Dominican Republic by way of the Midwest. An immigrant, as always, got the job done.

Four home runs on an Independence Day weekend started an entire region thinking that we might have something special. None of us could have known exactly how special. The walls of Fenway have a few more pennants, the Hall of Fame will have a new plaque. And all of New England has a renewed appreciation for this wondrous, bizarre, eternally hopeful game. David Ortiz made baseball fun again, and I'm not sure we can ever truly thank him enough.