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David Ortiz belts winner to open final regular-season series at Fenway

BOSTON -- There were reminders of David Ortiz everywhere Friday night at Fenway Park. Printed banners atop the Green Monster and alongside the perimeter of the building. Countless homemade signs. The first of three pregame ceremonies planned for the weekend. And a massive artistic rendering of Ortiz weaved into the center-field grass.

It was impossible not to know that Ortiz was the central figure in this, the last regular-season series of his career. But just in case, Ortiz gave the rain-drenched throng in Boston another reason to appreciate him.

In a rather fitting result for the beginning of an Ortiz-centric weekend, his two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning proved to be the difference in a 5-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. The retiring designated hitter also had an RBI single as Boston stopped a three-game slide and remained on pace to open the American League Division Series at home against Cleveland next Thursday.

"What can I tell you? Pretty good season," Ortiz said matter-of-factly in a quick session with reporters after the game.

As Ortiz took the heroics in stride, his teammates were asked once again to put his phenomenal last season into perspective.

"I've seen it for 10 years; it's pretty special, man," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "Every time there's a big situation, he's found a way to come through. We're going to enjoy the last couple of games we have with him because it's pretty special. ... You expect it. It's kind of sad to say, in this game it's tough to do what he's doing and he makes it look easy. You appreciate it so much from the outside watching it. We're just enjoying it. It's pretty awesome to see."

Ortiz's 541st home run was also his 1,192nd career extra-base hit, which tied him with Ken Griffey Jr. and Rafael Palmeiro for eighth place on baseball's all-time list. In addition, he is now tied with Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion for the AL lead with 127 RBIs.

All this for a 40-year-old who apparently needs hours of assistance to get ready for each and every game.

"Nights like tonight. He almost leaves you speechless," manager John Farrell said. "The career he's had, the number of home runs he's hit from the seventh inning on in ballgames at big moments. Tonight is right there with them."

The blast helped the Sox hold on to the second seed in the upcoming AL playoffs with two games to play, giving them the inside track for home-field advantage against Cleveland in the ALDS. A fourth straight loss would have put the Indians ahead and Boston on a path toward opening the postseason on the road, this just four days after the Red Sox held the top record in the AL.

They needed a boost, and Ortiz's timing was impeccable, as summed up by teammate Jackie Bradley Jr:

"Big-time player, big-time playmaker, big-time home run."