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Big Papi is scary good

By Mike Downey, Special to CNN
updated 12:06 AM EDT, Thu October 31, 2013
Boston Red Sox players hold up the championship trophy after Game 6 of baseball's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, October 30, in Boston. The Red Sox defeated the Cardinals 6-1. Boston Red Sox players hold up the championship trophy after Game 6 of baseball's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, October 30, in Boston. The Red Sox defeated the Cardinals 6-1.
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Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Boston celebrates World Series win
Boston celebrates World Series win
Boston celebrates World Series win
Boston celebrates World Series win
Boston celebrates World Series win
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mike Downey: David Ortiz may have been the scariest thing to face Cardinals this Halloween
  • "Big Papi" was awesome at the plate: 11 hits in 15 official times at bat before Game 6
  • Downey: Cardinals had to walk Ortiz four times in the final game; they lost anyway
  • Red Sox claimed the series as their own in large part due to Ortiz, Downey says

Editor's note: Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

(CNN) -- Verrry scary things as we approached Halloween:

1. Zombies.

2. Vampires.

3. David Ortiz.

It was a dark and bone-chilling night in Boston, Massachusetts. A game of baseball was to be played -- a spine-tingly, goose-bumpy game, Game 6 of the 2013 World Series, in a park fenced in by a Green Monster -- and the visiting St. Louis Cardinals had a particularly petrifying sight to face on Halloween eve when, one by one, those wolfman-hairy Boston Red Sox came to bat:

Mike Downey
Mike Downey

"Big Papi."

(Screams. A thunder clap. A lightning bolt.)

Oooh, as scary as the walking dead. Up to the plate he stepped, 6 feet 4, 250 pounds, lugging a huge wooden club.

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox hits a double, scoring Dustin Pedroia, in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Five of the 2013 World Series.
David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox hits a double, scoring Dustin Pedroia, in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Five of the 2013 World Series.

A cardinal or two on the front of a St. Louis player's shirt must have flown away in fear.

The rest of the Red Sox were eerie enough, with those demented-farmer-from-a-horror-film faces of theirs. Yet it was not the dark whiskers of David Americo Ortiz that were intimidating to anybody. It was that bat. That dangerous, deadly, pitcher's-bloodsucking bat.

Sure enough, they tried to take that bat out of Ortiz's huge hands. They walked him ... and walked him ... and walked him .... and walked him. Four times, three of them intentional, but all for naught because the Red Sox took Game 6 anyway, 6-1, to claim the World Series as their own on the green grass of home.

He came to Wednesday night's game hitting .733.

Red Sox player cheating or pitching?
Music showdown between Boston, St. Louis
Was obstruction the right call?

No, not .333. Not even .533, which would have been a fairly surreal bat stat. The monster masher known in New England to all as "Big Papi" already had 11 hits in 15 official times at bat in this World Series, a fiendishly good, sell-your-soul batting average of .733.

Which is kind of like playing 18 holes of golf and getting birdies on 14 or 15 of them.

Once when he DIDN'T get on base, he walloped a ball to Fenway Park's right-field wall that required a fence-banging, rib-bruising catch on the part of the Cardinals' Carlos Beltran to prevent it from being a grand slam home run.

Scary good, this guy has been.

(A banshee's cry. A creaking door.)

On the opposite wall of Boston's ancient park, the intimidatingly high left-field one nicknamed the "Green Monster," ghosts inside probably were cackling in delight whenever Ortiz lurched up to home plate. Wednesday's game needed to be won by the visitors from Missouri to stay alive. They must have felt Fenway's old walls closing in on them, like anxious villagers finding themselves trapped by Stephen King under a dome.

St. Louis came armed with a strong team and a splendid pitching staff. Yet it had to at least consider the possibility of NOT having a pitcher throw a single pitch to Big Papi.

At least not one he could hit.

Wait ... you mean walk Ortiz on purpose every time up, no matter what?

It might beat getting beat by his bat.

"I remember them doing it to Frank Howard," the former big-league outfielder Rick Reichardt said when I touched base with him before Wednesday's game.

September 2, 1970: Cleveland Indians vs. Washington Senators. The manager of the visiting team, Alvin Dark, had a dread of seeing 6-foot-7, 255-pound Frank Howard stride toward the plate. "He's the monster man in baseball," Dark once said of him. "I never saw any man feared like this."

So, he intentionally walked Howard time after time. He made pitcher Sam McDowell walk him in the first inning. (Reichardt batted next and made an out.) Walked him in the third inning, even though Howard was the first man up. (Reichardt struck out.) Walked him in the fifth, again with none on base and none out. (Reichardt singled, then Howard scored on a wild pitch.)

It got weirder. Sixth inning, two Senators on base, Howard up, so the Cleveland manager decided to finally risk pitching to him. He told McDowell to go from the mound to first base. He brought in the great Dean Chance just to pitch to Howard, who promptly made Dark regret it with a base hit. Reichardt then knocked in a run and Washington won the game.

Would you walk the Red Sox's red-hot David Ortiz every time at bat?

"Every at-bat, I would not," Reichardt told me. "But depending on the situation, it could be automatic."

This is the kind of fear that Barry Bonds struck in his foes. Bonds was walked intentionally a whopping 120 times in the 2004 season alone. That is insane. Yet to opposing managers, it felt more logical than letting Bonds have a chance to belt a home run.

Sparky Anderson refused to let George Brett hit after being burned by him once too often. "Anytime I've got first base open," Anderson said in the '80s when he was managing the Detroit Tigers, "that's where he's going."

Walk him even with the bases full?

"You bet," Sparky said. "That's the way they pitched Ted Williams. I'll take my chances with whoever's on deck."

Ah, Ted Williams ... the scariest Red Sox of them all.

Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants was once walked deliberately by Anderson four times in a game, whereupon he yelled to Anderson in the dugout: "Who do you think I am, Ted Williams?"

Hmmm, maybe the specter of Ted Williams was there a-haunting Fenway Park as well, watching over Ortiz as the Red Sox went out hunting for the ultimate Halloween treat. The way that Ortiz had been hitting in this World Series, you could definitely describe it as Williams-esque.

Big Papi, unlike the man once nicknamed the Splendid Splinter, is a baseball slugger in an era when many fans have become suspicious of a hitter's success. Is his prowess the result of hard work and legitimate talent or are more sinister methods involved: a secret formula from a Frankenstein-like laboratory, perhaps?

Ahhh, but almost nobody seems to speculate that a banned steroid has ever passed through David Ortiz's flesh and veins. He seems immune to suspicion, possibly due to his always being a man of considerable size, big arms, big trunk, big head, and not some 170-pound beanpole who transformed into a baseball-crushing beast.

"They pick me (to be drug-tested) every time, I don't know why," Ortiz said a few years ago with a bemused shrug. "All I know is all they are going to find is a lot of rice and beans."

He came to Halloween eve looking to torment and haunt everyone from St. Louis to the very end.

(A maniacal laugh. A wolf's howl.)

The Cardinals, well, they were looking to do whatever it took, short of garlic or a stake to the heart, to fend off Fenway Park's scary bat.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Downey.

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