Long arm of the law: Slam forever links trio
Ortiz's homer delivers iconic image of Hunter toppling in front of bullpen cop
DETROIT -- They are forever entwined now. The copper, the bopper and the would-be stopper.
They combined to create an extraordinary, if eccentric, October tableu that will be remembered long after Steve Horgan shaves his playoff beard and David Ortiz logs his last at-bat and Torii Hunter's headache subsides.
Horgan, in case you didn't know, is the Boston bullpen cop whose outstretched arms paired with Hunter's upended legs to create an instantly iconic image Sunday night. As Ortiz's Game 2-tying grand slam cleared the Fenway fence in a now-even American League Championship Series, many a GIF and JPEG was borne out of the moment, with Horgan's now-viral "V" standing for "victory" and Hunter's vexed "V" leaving him just plain vulnerable to the head-first crash that ensued.
"From the ankle all the way to the neck," is how Hunter described his pain. "I don't know what happened. I just know it wasn't fun."
And yet it was undoubtedly fun, nauseating and fascinating to watch, all at once. No observer, partial or otherwise, could take it in and not instantly know, no matter how this ALCS shakes out, that he or she had just seen something that will occupy a prominent spot in the brain's baseball file folder.
Fittingly, Hunter crashed into a Nikon advertisement, for this was a picture worth a thousand words. And a handful of aspirin.
Sore in the shoulder, tender in the head, still feeling the effects enough to spend the entire Tigers workout in the trainer's room, rather than on the field, Hunter was at peace with the knowledge that his topsy-turvy and ill-fated attempt to rob Ortiz of his magic moment will follow him always, because at least he knows the effort was there all the way.
He was a little less peaceful when it came to the cop, whose unmitigated joy at the sight of the ball clearing the wall perfectly juxtaposed the tossed Torii.
"The cop's supposed to protect and serve," Hunter said with a smile. "This son of a gun's got his hands up! Help me, then cheer, fool!"
He added: "I wish I would have kicked him in his face."
Hunter was joking, of course. But things do tend to get serious this time of year, and especially when Hunter and Ortiz step on the same field.
For one, this wasn't the first time Hunter hurt himself in pursuit of a ball off the bat of "Big Papi." In 2005, also at Fenway, he broke his ankle trying to make an acrobatic catch of a fly ball hit by Ortiz. His spikes got stuck in the padding on the wall, and his ankle twisted awkwardly.
"I was in the trainer's room," Hunter remembered, "and David came in after hitting the homer and just hung out with me."
Ortiz offered no such comfort in the aftermath of Game 2. This is the postseason, after all, and the old rules apparently don't apply.
"David didn't text me and check on his boy or nothing," Hunter said. "But who cares? He can check on me after the season."
It's all good between Hunter and Ortiz. They are fast friends going back to their nascent days with the Twins, for whom they both debuted in 1997. Ortiz was an oft-injured pseudo-prospect merely trying to halt his consistent commute between the Twin Cities and the Minor Leagues. The career trajectory of Hunter, a former first-rounder with fleet feet and a slick glove, was quite a bit more projectable, but Torii believed his buddy was bound for bigger things, too.
"David always could hit," Hunter said. "I still don't understand why the Twins non-tendered him [after the 2002 season]. Now that I'm older, I'm really like, 'That was stupid.' The worst mistake Terry Ryan ever made was to non-tender David Ortiz. Boston got a diamond in the rough in 2003 and gave him a shot. He led those boys to the World Series championship. David Ortiz turned that franchise around. They might not say it, but I saw it."
And with one swing, we all saw how quickly Ortiz -- even at 37 -- can turn a series (and a friend) upside-down. But Papi would not have been shocked to see Torii come down with the ball.
"The reason why I think he didn't catch that ball is because the ball took like a left turn when he was going right," Ortiz said. "Looked to me like he kind of touched it. But that's Torii. Torii is a trooper out there, man. And he's fun to watch."
The Red Sox relievers watched Hunter flip onto the metal floor behind the fence. Ryan Dempster had just thrown a warm-up pitch when, suddenly, the nine-time Gold Glove-winner Hunter made his unexpected appearance. Dempster was one of several guys to rush to Hunter's aid.
"I just made sure he was all right and just told him he's a stud," Dempster said. "I know he didn't catch the ball, but that was some Rodney McCray Triple-A, running-through-the-wall stuff. As somebody who appreciates hard-nosed baseball like I do, I just wanted to tell him that."
This was a moment that was easy to appreciate, provided you don't have Detroit blood in your veins. One of the game's all-time clutch hitters launched a grand slam, one of its most dynamic outfielders risked life and limb to run it down, and an unlikely folk hero emerged in the form of one of Boston's best, whose instantaneous elation might not have made Hunter all that happy but nonetheless captured the town temperament.
The copper, the bopper and the would-be stopper.
October at its best.