Belting out a nice tune
David Ortiz acknowledges the crowd after hitting the seventh regular season game-ending home run of his career. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin) Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin
It must be nice to be Big Papi, idol of a (Red Sox) Nation, cover boy of an esteemed national magazine, basher of walkoff homers, breaker of enemy hearts. I rather doubt even other ballplayers can imagine what it must be like.
Here was David Ortiz, just relaxing, sitting in front of his locker and talking some baseball after yesterday's postponement. ``I like it when they call the game this early," he said. ``It's not raining much now, but they say it will rain harder in a couple of hours. The field can't take any more. The field is soaked.
``This year is bad," he continued. ``I can understand rain at the beginning of the season, but we're getting too much. What worries me is doubleheaders later in the season. That's how teams can break down."
It was less than 24 hours after his latest joyous trot around the bases following yet another walkoff homer. His Saturday afternoon shot into the Tony C seats in straightaway center was his seventh career regular-season walkoff, one with the Twins and six with the Red Sox. And then there were the two in the 2004 postseason. Throw in the assorted game-ending non-homers, and it won't be long before the entire concept of a walkoff hit of any sort will be known as a ``Papi."
What a battle it was. Phillies pitcher Tom Gordon is not fun for anyone to hit. He throws hard and he has one of the most celebrated curveballs of post World War II (It's the gospel truth. Really). As described by Curt Schilling, swinging strike one was a ``92-mile-an-hour cutter." And strike two was brutal, a futile swing that wasn't far away from Bernie Carbo's infamous keep-alive swat against Rawly Eastwick in Game 6 of the 1975 Series. ``A slider at 86 that was nastier," said Schilling.
``He came with the same motion as before, but it was a lot slower," said Ortiz of strike two. ``It fooled me."
Down, 0-and-2, he was pretty much at Gordon's mercy. Papi had no choice but to think fastball. ``He throws 94," Ortiz reminded. ``You just look for something in the strike zone."
Gordon threw that infamous 12-to-6 breaking ball, and it stayed up a bit more than he wanted. Papi swung, and you know the rest. Did he know it was gone? ``Oh, yeah," he said with a smile.
It capped an interesting afternoon for Papi. Take, for example, that single he had in the first inning. For weeks he has been confronted with a massive shift, and for weeks he has been losing base hits, usually to the second baseman, who throws him out from 30 feet beyond the infield. This time the gods smiled on him, as his grounder to the right side somehow found a microscopic opening between the second baseman and the shortstop.
``I got to first base, and Ryan Howard was doing this," said Ortiz, making the periscope sign. `` `How'd you get the ball through that?' "
For the record, Ortiz is a member of the Ryan Howard Fan Club. After observing the young man's body type and the way baseballs tend to land a mile or two away after some of his swings, he felt compelled to ask Mr. Howard a question.
``Did my father have anything to do with you?" he wondered.
Papi's big blast provided the Red Sox with their eighth straight win. It wasn't too, too long ago, however, that the Sox were losing three straight in Minneapolis and the locals were perhaps starting to lose faith. All of this underscores the relentless ebb-and-flow of a long season. Papi says people must understand that you cannot judge either teams or individuals in the short run, not in this game. If something seemingly abnormal is going on, there is usually an explanation.
``Not to make excuses," he said, ``but we were killed even before we got there [Minneapolis]. We had no energy. And we just weren't going well. Guys were hitting balls right at people. No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn't catch a break."
Papi should know.
``I mean, come on," said Ortiz with a sigh. ``I hit a speaker."
``The funny thing," he revealed, ``is that I hit a speaker in batting practice, too. I didn't question anybody about what would happen if I hit it in a game. If you hit a speaker, they know it would have been a home run, so how can you make an out? I guess they figured nobody would ever hit a speaker when they built that place."
In case you were wondering, Papi likes his ballclub. He especially likes the closer, whose success, he claimed, has come as no surprise to him. ``When I first saw him, I thought he would be something special. I thought he was a young Roger Clemens. The confidence. The velocity. The attitude. It was like a carbon copy of Roger Clemens. I'm pretty sure you guys [i.e. the media] felt the same way. You don't see many like him, a guy who comes into the game and acts like he's been around 10 years. You don't see players like that. When you do, you've got a superstar."
Big Papi's been taking note of the American League, and you can count him among those who believe the Red Sox had better win the East Division if they're planning on postseason play. ``Put it this way," he said. ``In that [Central] Division, there are too many teams, I won't say [they] `can't compete,' but you know what I mean. In our division, if you let up on Tampa Bay they will bite your butt. People say, well, Baltimore, but they can bite your butt, too."
Yes, he was aware of the renowned Sports Illustrated jinx when he agreed to be on the cover. ``I don't believe in any of that," he said. ``This is a game where you're either going to do well or you're going to [expletive]." It would seem that Saturday's walkoff addressed the issue sufficiently.
Oh, those walkoffs. As Fox's Tim McCarver said on the air as Papi rounded the bases Saturday, ``Folks, it's not that easy."
Does Papi worry that people, even some inside his own clubhouse, might be expecting him to do stuff like that all the time?
``You've just got to say, `People, it really isn't that easy, so don't get used to it,' " he said. ``There are going to be more times you're not going to do it. But I'm sure people know you try, that you put everything into it. That's all I can do."
As long as he can avoid hitting speakers, he'll do just fine.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.