But the start to Ortiz’s postseason career shows that such qualities might not be inherent. In his first 20 postseason games, Ortiz hit .211 and slugged .310 with one home run.
The moments outweigh the numbers. His reputation for such performances began in the 2003 playoffs with the Red Sox, when he delivered a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth inning against Oakland in Game 4 of the division series, when Boston faced elimination. That turned a deficit into a lead, and the legend began.
Fans will remember his grand slam from Sunday night right alongside the walk-off two-run homer he hit to keep the Red Sox alive in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, the walk-off homer he hit to end the division series against the Angels that same year, and so on.
But Ortiz has played 72 postseason games and had 315 plate appearances — roughly half a season — in which he has hit .284 with a .394 on-base percentage and a .542 slugging percentage. That almost matches his line over 17 regular seasons: .287/.381/.549. According to baseball-reference.com, his numbers in “late and close” situations — defined by the Web site as in the seventh inning or later when the batting team is tied, ahead by one, or the tying run is at least on deck — are worse than his standard: .260/.373/.502.
Still, Sunday night, the moment found Ortiz yet again. “Probably not another guy on the planet that I’d want in the box,” said Boston left fielder Jonny Gomes, who scored the winning run in the ninth.
“When there’s a lot on the line, some people crumble,” Gomes said. “Some people don’t want to take the last shot. Some people pass. Some people do. Some people can’t handle the failure of the big moment.”
Players and coaches talk about the feel of the situation, not the numbers, and they do so passionately. Look at how Ortiz reacted after he crossed home plate, after he reached the dugout Sunday, all but shrugging as he exchanged high-fives with delirious teammates.
“There’s a calmness and presence about him in those key moments,” Farrell said. “His emotional control allows him to perform as he does.”
Justin Verlander, the former Cy Young and MVP winner who will oppose the Red Sox on Tuesday, said there are “absolutely” clutch players.
“I think David is the perfect example of that,” Verlander said. “You look at what he’s done for this organization. In big spots, he’s the guy that you want up at the plate.”
Sunday night, he was, and he delivered. What will Tuesday bring, should the same spot arise? The numbers would tell us there’s no way to know. The Red Sox would tell us that’s crazy.