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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Class is in: Tipping the cap to an opponent

Class is in: Tipping the cap to an opponent

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Class is in: Tipping the cap to an opponent

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Maybe the classiest moment of this postseason occurred Thursday night just after Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias sprinted from a spot to the right of second base all the way into shallow left-center field to make an astonishing, swipe-of-the-glove, back-to-the-infield grab of a David Ortiz fly ball.

Go ahead and check out the replay. No matter how many times you watch the play, you're going to have trouble getting your mind around it. Iglesias literally outran the ball, kept tracking it and made the play. It's one of those plays that just might live forever when the discussion turns to great defensive plays.

Only that's not the best part of the play, not really. That came after the play, as Ortiz rounded first, watched what happened and saw the kind of effort it had taken to rob him of a hit. Now here's the best part.

Ortiz smiled.

Ortiz applauded.

He was applauding not just a spectacular play made by a former teammate. He was applauding not just a moment that sums up the passion of baseball's postseason. He was certainly not applauding as a way to express his frustration.

Ortiz is a passionate man, as passionate as any player ever, and in that moment, right there in the arena, having seen the very best this wonderful sport has to offer, he was applauding everything that play stood for as the Tigers and Red Sox, two really good baseball teams, two teams filled with guys easy to root for, fight it out for the American League pennant. Sometimes, we get moments like that, moments that speak volumes for both the players and for all the millions of people watching at home.

There was one a lot like that in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series -- remember that one? -- when Pete Rose stepped into the batter's box in the 11th inning of that incredible game and whispered to Carlton Fisk, "Is this a great game, or what?"

Indeed, in one of the great World Series games ever played, in one of the great World Series ever played, Rose took a moment to appreciate it. Years later, Fisk would remember Rose's words as one of the special moments of his career, too, a singular moment shared by great athletes.

There was one at Turner Field in 2004 when the Houston Astros, after years of playoff frustration, finally eliminated the Braves to get out of the first round of the playoffs. As thrilling as the victory was for the Astros, it was equally crushing for the Braves, a team that had legitimate championship hopes that season.

In defeat, the Braves did what great warriors sometimes do. Once the battle was over, Braves general manager John Schuerholz and pitcher John Smoltz made their way to the visitors' clubhouse and embraced Astros stars Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and others. Their message was basic. They understood how hard the Astros had worked. They wanted to let them know that part of them was happy for them.

There was another like that on the last day of the 1982 season at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. That year, the Brewers arrived in Baltimore to play four games against the Orioles. They needed to win just one of those games to clinch a division championship.

And yet ...

They lost Game 1 to lower their lead to two games. They lost Game 2 as well. And then they lost Game 3, and so going into the final day of the season, the AL East was tied.

The Brewers were on the verge of a spectacular collapse. But they rallied to win that final game, and afterward, the late owner of the Orioles, a fiercely competitive man named Edward Bennett Williams, a brilliant trial attorney and Washington legend, sought out the owner of the Brewers.

Williams was not a good loser, and so for him to do this said all you need to know about how much he thought of the other guy. And when he saw Bud Selig, he grabbed him, threw both arms around him and whispered in his ear, "Buddy, if I had to lose, I'm glad it was to you."

Thirty-one years later, Selig's voice sometimes still cracks when he speaks of that moment. Like Williams, he's a fanatic competitor, and like Williams, he wasn't always a good loser.

On that day, though, these two men who respected and loved one another, were swept away in a flood of emotions, one thrilled, one disappointed, but each still respecting the other.

We see this sometimes in sports, with competitors doing battle on the field and then paying tribute to the other side when it's over. For instance, when the Dodgers and Cardinals played a tremendous division series in 2004, Cardinals outfielder Larry Walker arranged a hockey-style handshake line between the two teams after the final game.

We saw it two years ago when Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay -- the closest of friends off the field -- prepared to face one another in the final game of a Phillies-Cardinals Division Series.

Before the game, they spoke of how much they admired one another, how much they admired the other's fight and determination and all that. And then they went out and competed like crazy, with Carpenter going the distance to beat his buddy, 1-0.

Afterward, Carpenter was thrilled to have led his team to another round of the playoffs, but he was also sensitive that the guy who'd lost the game was hurting that day.

When the Cardinals appeared on the verge of losing the 2011 World Series, manager Tony La Russa sent word to his bullpen staff that when the game ended, the players were not to leave the field immediately. Even in that darkest of hours, La Russa was reminding his players that they were to stick around long enough to thank the fans and let them know how much they appreciated them.

The Cardinals rallied to win that game and then won Game 7 as well in one of the great World Series ever played. With that gesture near the end of Game 6, La Russa's action said almost as much as anything that happened on the field.

Sometimes, those of us in the media see things that stick with us forever. When Halladay no-hit the Reds in Game 1 of a 2010 Division Series, the Cincinnati players stood in front of their lockers for almost an hour answering questions, both paying tribute to Halladay and being accountable to their team. There are Reds officials who believe that was one of the proudest moments in franchise history.

Dennis Eckersley faced waves of reporters the night he allowed Kirk Gibson's game-ending home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. He couldn't have been more disappointed. He couldn't have been more gracious.

And Mitch Williams did the same thing in 1993 when he gave up Joe Carter's home run that ended the 1993 World Series. That night, players from both teams went to one another's clubhouse to congratulate each other on having played hard and been part of something they'll remember forever.

So today, we have David Ortiz. We have Jose Iglesias, too, making the kind of play that seems to defy the laws of physics. But we have Ortiz doing what great competitors do. He will be forever defined by his accomplishments and by his helping the Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino. On Thursday night, he showed the world he ought to be defined by a few other things, too.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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