April 21. 2013 1:13AM

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: It's the Red Sox's turn to honor heroes

Special to The Sunday News

Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz addresses fans during a pre-game ceremony honoring the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings on Sunday. (REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

BOSTON -- It had been just 118 hours since barely a mile down Boylston Street twin blasts burned this city in such a way that scars will last forever. Ultimately leaving kids, cops, and good people dead or maimed, provoking a gunfight that was followed by a daylong manhunt, and effectively bringing a terrorized town to a standstill, an incomprehensible sequence of events all began with a couple of homemade bombs.

Saturday, though, David Ortiz ushered this enduring burgh back to normal with an all together different type of bomb.

An F-bomb.

"This is our (bleeping) city," the longest-tenured Red Sox player told a crowd of 35,152, "and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."

With that, Ortiz lowered the microphone in his left hand and lifted his right, pumping it skyward with a sense of triumph that captured the spirit of Fenway Park an afternoon after authorities apprehended the second of two suspects they believe detonated those bombs at last Monday's Boston Marathon.

Strength hasn't been hard to find in these parts since the instant the terrorists struck - though at that point the Sox had just wrapped a sweep of the Rays and were on their way to Cleveland, so Saturday marked the first time the organization had a chance to express its thanks to and solidarity with the community. And the club capitalized on the opportunity in a most poignant way.

In the wake of one of Boston's darkest days, the Sox put on a pregame ceremony that sent chills quivering as if it was one of New England's coldest nights. The goosebumps began with the first notes of Jeff Buckley's rendition of "Hallelujah," which played over a montage featuring pictures of athletes running the marathon - then, after the screen momentarily went black, resumed with images of people responding before the smoke had even cleared.

The photos showed cowboy-hat wearing Carlos Arredondo wheeling a bloody Jeff Bauman. It showed ex-Patriot Joe Andruzzi carrying a woman. It showed police reaching for their weapons as they scattered to cover the scene.

Soon, quotes from officials, from players, from the President of the United States began scrawling on the video boards that were left dark beforehand in deference to the situation. Finally the song and the video ended with a touching shot of people standing at the temporary memorial set up on Boylston Street, its corner featuring two women wearing yellow marathon jackets as they shared an embrace.

That brought the Red Sox and the visiting Royals on to the baseline - but on this day their appearance was secondary. The bigger applause was held for those who came next: the Boston Marathon volunteers; Lynn police officer Matt Harrison, who went from lunch in a restaurant to using a belt as a tourniquet; Steve Byrne, whose burly body was thrown over a fence by the blast; Dick and Rick Hoyt, the father-son marathon team who have become icons of that race; Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; Boston Police commissioner Ed Davis, whose appearance on the field pregame elicited more requests for handshakes than most celebrities do in that spot; Richard DesLauriers, the FBI's special agent in charge of the case; and then other members of law enforcement joined all them around the mound, to enormous applause.

Following the Bruins' lead from Wednesday, rather than invite a performer to do so, the Sox asked the crowd to sing the national anthem - and what stood out most, at least from the grandstands on the third-base side, was how fans weren't screaming the words. They were singing them. It was as if, in this moment, being loud was much less important than being good.

And whether or not that was actually the intent, the result was beautiful.

The crowd sang together again in the seventh inning, belting out God Bless America. Then in the eighth, Neil Diamond was summoned for a live performance of "Sweet Caroline," which played in stadiums across baseball this week as a tribute to Boston.

Ultimately it was Daniel Nava and his three-run homer who ensured they played "Dirty Water" at the end of a 4-3 victory, though three batters after Diamond sang, Ortiz actually stepped to the center of the spotlight again - this time with a bat, instead of a microphone, in his hands. With two on and the Sox trailing by a run, he had a chance to play hero. Instead, he grounded into a double play.

But that was okay. There were already enough heroes at Fenway Park on Saturday. And Big Papi, a Dominican by birth but a Bostonian by choice, had already made his statement.

His bleepin' city had long since proven itself plenty strong.

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Previous to his speech, Ortiz was activated from the disabled list, and the designated hitter played in just his second major-league game since last July 16. To make room on the roster, rookie outfielder Jackie Bradley was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket.

After earning a roster spot with a torrid spring training, and opening the year as the club's starting left fielder, Bradley finished his initial big-league stint at 3-for-31 with 12 strikeouts and a .392 on-base plus slugging. That performance, and the need it shows for Bradley to fix the holes in his swing, almost certainly ensures he'll spend at least 20 days in the minors. If he does that, his contract will remain under team control for another full season, through 2019.

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The game originally scheduled for Friday but postponed because of the manhunt for the bombing suspect will be played tonight at 7 p.m. It will be the second half of a separate-admission doubleheader, following the regularly scheduled 1:35 contest with the Royals. Tickets for Friday are good for entry to the nightcap.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: The Red Sox are 10-0 when scoring first this season. It's the first time since at least 1918 that the club has won its first 10 games when scoring first.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.