Big Papi Bracket: David Ortiz's greatest moment? Game 4, 2004

ByScott Lauber ESPN logo
Thursday, September 22, 2016

How will you best remember Big Papi?

As David Ortiz's final regular season hits its home stretch, we asked fans to select the Boston Red Sox slugger's signature achievement.

Two weeks ago, we began the Big Papi Bracket with an opening round of 32 moments. That Thursday, we revealed the Sweet 16. Last Monday, we moved on to the Elite Eight. Then,the Final Four.

And this week ... the championship round.

You cast votes well into the six figures. Now, Red Sox beat writer Scott Lauber discusses the moment you ultimately chose as No. 1.

All anybody knew amid the bedlam at Fenway Park in the wee hours of the morning of Oct. 18, 2004 was that the Boston Red Sox -- a motley crew of self-proclaimed "Idiots" -- had lived to play another day in their American League Championship Series against the archenemy New York Yankees.

Looking back, though, the moment had far greater significance, not only for both teams but also for the slugger who made it happen.

"That hit," David Ortiz is fond of saying, "it put me on the map."

Odds are, Ortiz would have gone on to hit more than 500 home runs regardless of whether he had taken Yankees reliever Paul Quantrill deep to right field in the 12th inning of Game 4 of the wildest ALCS in baseball history. But his legacy as the most clutch hitter of his generation -- "Senor Octubre," if you will -- was born with that one swing.

It was fitting, then, that after two-plus weeks of voting in's "Big Papi Bracket," fans chose Ortiz's two-run walk-off homer against Quantrill as the signature achievement in his career. The field of 32 was whittled down to a Sweet 16, Elite Eight and later a Final Four that also consisted of Ortiz's walk-off single in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, his grand slam in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS that sent then-Detroit Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter flipping into the right-field bullpen, and Big Papi's "This is our f---ing city" speech in the first game at Fenway Park after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

And while each of those moments were worthy champions, the Game 4 homer was a predictable winner given the stakes and, let's face it, the opponent.

"The Yankees were the team to beat back then," Ortiz said earlier in the season. "Being able to do what we did [in 2004] was something that was very special. It was career-lifting. People pretty much get to know you better, focus a little bit more on you. If you continue to be successful, you can build a career out of it."

Ironically, Ortiz's homer is only the second-most famous play from that game. In the ninth inning, with the Yankees leading by one run and legendary closer Mariano Rivera on the mound, Dave Roberts pinch-ran for Kevin Millar and boldly stole second base, enabling him to score the tying run on Bill Mueller's single up the middle.

The game went on, with both teams leaving the go-ahead run in scoring position in the 11th inning. Manny Ramirez opened the bottom of the 12th with a single to left field against Quantrill, bringing Ortiz to the plate against the veteran right-hander, who had held him to one hit and two walks in eight previous plate appearances.

Ortiz knew Quantrill was known for his sinker, which tended to tail in against left-handed batters. Ortiz ran the count to 2-1, then got a sinker he could drive. He pulled in his hands and turned on the ball, hitting it on a line over the right-field fence.

"He's such a good hitter in general, but Fenway made him a different hitter, especially for a pitcher like me, because he could take you over that wall in left field," Quantrill told Boston Magazine earlier this year. "When I pitched to him in the 2004 playoffs, I tried to get inside and it didn't quite work out -- at least for me."

One night later, Ortiz did it again, lining a single to center field against Yankees reliever Esteban Loaiza in the bottom of the 14th inning of Game 5. The series went back to New York, where the Red Sox won twice and became the first team ever to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series.

In Red Sox lore, nothing that has happened since -- not even the 2007 or 2013 World Series titles -- has been able to compete with 2004, especially the vanquishing of the Yankees.

And with that, Ortiz's reputation was cemented. Never mind that he spoke for an entire city following the Marathon terror, belted his 500th career home run last September and is nearing the end of the greatest farewell season in baseball history. When Ortiz made the cover of a Wheaties box, it was in 2004 and it featured an image of him rounding first base with his right arm raised in the air after the homer against Quantrill.

"If you step forward and get things done, that puts you on the map," Ortiz said. "I think that's what happened to me in '04. Things always start one way, and '03-'04, my first years here, being able to dominate and put up numbers, especially against the Yankees, it's a big part of what I am."

Related Video