By the time the last week of October in 2013 rolled around, David Ortiz was already enjoying a legendary season, one in which he had earned accolades as an All Star as well as a Silver Slugger. Thanks in large part to the man himself, the Boston Red Sox were in the hunt for their third World Series title in nine years. Thought it’s arguable that this is not the most impressive playoff performance of his career, Ortiz capped an already magical season and playoff with a six-game hitting clinic that stands as one of the best World Series performances ever.
When Ortiz was putting this franchise on his back during the 2004 and 2007 World Series, I was still a kid. The most I remember about those titles was that my parents would send me to bed by the third inning. So, 2013 was the first time I was experiencing a Red Sox playoff run with a consciousness about the game fully-formed.
All year, it felt like these Red Sox, who led baseball in scoring from innings seven to nine, always came up with that clutch hit. I thought it was inevitable that, no matter the deficit, this team would mount a comeback, and Ortiz was a huge part of that feeling.
He was good all year, but this six-game stretch in the Fall Classic against the St. Louis Cardinals quickly became something I had never seen before, and haven’t since. On the biggest stage, against a pitching staff that was first in the National League in pitcher wins and fourth in ERA+, Big Papi hit like he was swinging at a beach ball. Ortiz’s .688 batting average and .760 on-base percentage are each the second-highest ever recorded by a player in a single World Series. In slugging percentage, he’s eighth all-time. OPS, seventh (Steve Pearce’s 1.167 mark in 2018 has him 10th, by the way). Walks, he’s seventh too. The St. Louis pitching staff struck him out once in six games.
All in all, Baseball-Reference puts Ortiz’s championship win probability added at 34%. and his cumulative game win probability added for that series at .938, the eighth-highest ever recorded in a single Fall Classic. The man did it all in 25 plate appearances. Statistically speaking, he single-handedly won almost one whole game for the Red Sox this series, a feat so rare that it’s been achieved just once since, by George Springer in 2017.
In Game One — an 8-1 win for Boston — Ortiz went two for three with a walk and a home run, a line that would have been somehow even more gaudy had Carlos Beltran not robbed Ortiz of a grand slam in the second inning. By the time Ortiz’s two-run bomb was sailing towards the mob of fans in right-center field in the seventh, the game was already in hand. It wasn’t until Game Two that Ortiz really stamped his name on the Series.
In the sixth inning, with Boston having mustered just two hits to that point and trailing 1-0, he smashed Michael Wacha’s 102nd pitch — an 85 mile per hour meatball — over the Monster to take the lead. Fans at Fenway demanded a curtain call and Ortiz obliged. Games Two and Three — during which he went 3-5 with a home run — were probably his worst of the series and the Red Sox lost, but this relative slump didn’t last long. Cardinals pitching retired him just once over the final three games, all Boston wins. They even went as far as to walk him four times in Game Six, three of which were intentional. The Cardinals kept challenging Ortiz and failing to the point that simply pitching around him all series became a lasting “What if?”. In fact, Adam Wainwright, who started Game 1 of the 2013 World Series for St. Louis, still jokes that his insistence on pitching to Ortiz was a mistake.
After Ortiz hit a grand slam to tie Game Two of the ALCS against the Tigers, winning the World Series felt like an inevitability. Given how well the Red Sox played as a team that series, they might have been able to beat St. Louis without him, but the numbers tell us that Ortiz was the single biggest reason that Boston won as handily as it did. It was the perfect ending to a dream season that started from a pretty low place. The Red Sox finished in last-place finish in 2012 and the city itself was still recovering from the Boston Marathon Bombing. That season and in those playoffs, Ortiz one again played the role of superhero.
In April, Ortiz rallied the city with an iconic speech before the first game back following the attack and five months later, elicited similarly raucous applause for his performance on the diamond. This is what made Big Papi mythical to me. He was synonymous with the city and the team, a player that had made and seen so much of Red Sox history that it is impossible to imagine the franchise without him.
There’s a lot of reasons that the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series. The starting pitching was outstanding, so was the defense all around the diamond and Shane Victorino hit at a series MVP level too. But this is the Ortiz Series for a reason. For him, it was just one in a long career of epic postseason triumphs, but to me he had never stood taller than he did after dominating the Cardinals.