Ortiz primed for productive ALCS
Slugger aims to step up against Rays, send Sox to Fall Classic
ST. PETERSBURG -- He has turned out the lights on more postseason games than the stadium electrician. He has emptied more October houses than "Last call!"With apologies to Jonathan Papelbon and, before him, Keith Foulke, David Ortiz has been the championship-era Boston Red Sox's real closer -- the guy who steps into the batter's box after underlings have set up the deal, and closes it.
Big Papi is back on the big stage, but is he still capable of wielding the big stick?This isn't about his left wrist, the one in which an injured tendon disabled him for seven weeks in the middle of the season and still sapped his swing long after his return. "I feel good, man. The wrist is great," said Ortiz. It's more about the changed cast around him, about being a more conspicuous threat in a lineup otherwise emptied of long-ball thugs. Plenty of Red Sox players can strike balls out of the yard, without striking constant fear in people, not the way not the way Manny Ramirez did. So the question is, can Ortiz still have his yin without Ramirez's yang? "Are you kidding? They're here for a reason," said right-hander James Shields, Tampa Bay's scheduled starter in Friday night's Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. "Manny or not, that's a good lineup. Jason Bay is a pretty solid hitter." "He's still dangerous," fellow Rays starter Matt Garza said of Ortiz. "And you have to respect Bay behind him. I've never faced [Bay] before, and it'll be a fun challenge. He's a guy who'll be quiet the whole game, then he comes up with a big clutch hit and you're saying, 'Where's he been the whole time?'
Ortiz vs. Rays in 2008
"But Ortiz ... I've had some success against him, but he got me the last time, so I'll have to give a little payback."To be exact, Ortiz got Garza twice the last time, drilling two home runs off him on Sept. 17 in a 10-3 Tampa Bay victory. But those were Ortiz's first hits off Garza in 10 career at-bats. Those were also two of Ortiz's total of three homers this season off Tampa Bay pitching -- an amazing turn of events considering the likable designated hitter's lifetime feast against it. If you think Ortiz has maligned the Yankees through the years ... he had entered this season with 31 homers and 88 RBIs in 103 starts against the Rays. Apparently, they, too, liked him a lot better with Ramirez being gone: In six post-Ramirez run-ins with Ortiz, Rays pitching held him to a .227 average (5-for-22). Evidence of the health of Ortiz's left wrist was apparent during the AL Division Series vs. the Angels, in his ability to turn on a pitch and pull it sharply -- when, that is, the ball was delivered within easy reach. Which, from Angels pitchers, wasn't often. They stayed away from the lone remaining redwood in Boston's offensive forest, inviting him to take cuts at junk pitches, or take his walks. He got the idea during Game 3, the one which ended in a 12-inning win for Los Angeles, the one in which he accepted three walks, including in the 10th and 12th innings. "Tie game, you don't want anyone on base, I'm getting walked," said Ortiz, who claimed to not be frustrated by the aversion. "I'll take my walks, man."
|Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is no stranger to the ALCS, posting a .320 average in 26 games.|
Yet, Ortiz got himself out often enough to wind up with the least damaging of the 12 postseason series in which he has appeared, the first two with the Twins before Minnesota released him and he was swiped off the discard pile by Boston general manager Theo Epstein.For the first time, Ortiz had neither a home run nor multiple RBIs, his 4-for-17 including only one extra-base hit, albeit a key ninth-inning double in Game 2. He was willing to let others play hero, and the scrum following him in the lineup took turns, from Bay to Kevin Youkilis to J.D. Drew. Ortiz seems primed for a more productive ALCS. He expects the guy in front of him, Dustin Pedroia, to again become a terror. That sounds like a good call: The league co-leader in hits (213) could collect a lot of them following his 1-for-17 ALDS. "At one point, [Jacoby] Ellsbury (who did have a solid ALDS by going 6-for-18) and Pedroia are going to get hot," Ortiz said. "What are you going to do? Walk them, too? Throw them breaking balls in the dirt? "Every game, I might see one [hittable] pitch, and if I don't hit it, I might not see another one." Ortiz didn't want to come off as making preemptive alibis. If a string of outs are to follow, credit them to the Tampa Bay pitchers, not his own impatience. "Now they have the best pitching in the AL," he said. "Those guys can pitch. What can you do? "Hey, hitting it not easy. Some guys can make it look easy. But you can go 0-for-5 on your best day. [Rays pitchers] are not afraid to get down with anybody, they aren't opposed to any challenge." Ortiz will be more than happy to give them that -- if they throw any balls in his area code.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.