David Ortiz sent the Boston Red Sox on to the next round of the 2004 postseason with a thrilling walk-off home run in Game 3 of the ALDS.
The 2004 postseason was a magical run for the Boston Red Sox. We all remember how it ended with the reversal of an 86-year old curse and a championship parade. The historic comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS will forever be ingrained in our memories. None of that would have been possible without escaping the first round of the playoffs and the heroic efforts in that series often go overlooked when we reflect on that remarkable season.
Boston took care of business in the first two games of the American League Division Series on the road, outscoring the Anaheim Angels 17-6 to put their opponent on the brink of elimination as the series shifted to Fenway Park.
David Ortiz was having a fairly quiet series to that point. While the lineup around him exploded in the first two games, Big Papi was 2-for-5 without an extra-base hit and only one RBI. He also walked five times, including three intentional walks, as the Angels clearly had a strategy to pitch around the Red Sox designated hitter.
That plan unraveled in Game 3 when Ortiz broke out with a four-hit performance, including the most important hit of the series.
Ortiz doubled and scored in the third and added an RBI double the following inning as the Red Sox opened a 5-1 lead. Manny Ramirez extended the lead with a base hit to drive in another run but the chance to do any further damage was thwarted when Ortiz struck out to end the inning with runners stranded on the corners.
The Red Sox could have used that extra cushion. What once appeared to be a comfortable lead quickly evaporated in the seventh inning, capped by Vladimir Guerrero‘s game-tying grand slam off Mike Timlin.
A two-out base hit by Ortiz and a Trot Nixon walk tried to ignite an eighth inning rally but it fell short and Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez retired the side in order in the ninth. It was on to extra innings!
The effort from Keith Foulke can’t go overlooked. The Red Sox closer came in to put away the last two batters in the eighth and he stayed on for the ninth. A single and a double were followed by an intentional walk to Guerrero to load the bases with only one out. There was no margin for error but Foulke escaped the jam with back-to-back strikeouts to preserve the tie. It took him 37 pitches to record five outs but the stage was set for Ortiz’s 10th-inning heroics.
Johnny Damon led off the final frame with a base hit but K-Rod retired the next two batters. The Angels then made the questionable decision to take out their dominant closer and replace him with Jarrod Washburn, their Game 1 starter.
Rodriguez was tiring after throwing 38 pitches over 2 2/3 innings while Washburn was available out of the bullpen after getting knocked out in the fourth inning of his start to open the series.
The Angels presumably favored a lefty to face Ortiz, although the right-handed Rodriguez had better numbers against lefties than Washburn. This was K-Rod’s breakout year, an All-Star campaign that saw him finish fourth in AL Cy Young voting, but they didn’t trust him to face Ortiz in the biggest moment of the game.
It only took one pitch for the Angels to realize their mistake. Washburn caught too much of the plate and Ortiz swatted it into the Monster seats for an opposite field home run.
Ortiz was predominately a pull hitter with the vast majority of his home runs flying out to right field or crushed to deep center. He rarely took aim at Fenway’s towering left field wall but this time he took a pitch drifting away and muscled it into the stands.
The walk-off homer sealed a three-game sweep of the Angels to advance the Red Sox to the ALCS. There would be plenty more memorable moments from Ortiz in that series against the Yankees but Boston needed Big Papi’s bat to get them to that stage of the postseason first.