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Close calls for slumping Ortiz

Hard-hit balls still result in an 0 for 4

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / May 30, 2009
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TORONTO - David Ortiz nearly hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw last night, a soaring fly ball that fell inches short of the wall and into an outfielder's glove. He blistered the next ball he hit so hard it nearly seared through the first baseman's mitt.

Ortiz still finished 0 for 4 in a 6-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Moving from third to sixth in the batting order did not extricate him from his season-long slog. Hitting the ball hard didn't help last night. So Ortiz found another recourse.

"All I can do about myself right now is laugh," he said. "Because I ain't going to cry. Laugh. Keep on swinging. And wait for the good-luck charm to show up. There's nothing else I can do."

Manager Terry Francona moved Ortiz down in the batting order Tuesday with the intention of reviving the spiraling slugger and clearing Ortiz's cold bat from the meat of the lineup. Through four games it has served only to perpetuate his struggles and stifle the offense.

Ortiz is 2 for 15 since dropping to sixth. Ortiz was batting .197 as a three-hitter; he's now batting .189 overall. The Red Sox have not fared much better. They have scored two, two, three, and three runs in the four games, three of which they lost.

The sample size is small, and J.D. Drew said the lineup change was not an impetus for the dearth of runs. "I just think it's one of them things," he said.

"Sometimes you need two-out hits," Francona said. "We had a bunch of hits. We just didn't do much with it. Sometimes you need to a catch a break. Sometimes you need to make a break."

The Red Sox have averaged eight hits over their last four games, and they pounded out 11 last night. Yet they still couldn't muster more than three runs. They left eight men on base, Ortiz stranding four.

The first three, he could hardly be blamed for. The Red Sox loaded the bases after Jason Bay dribbled a two-out infield single in the first inning, and up came Ortiz. He launched the first pitch Casey Janssen threw to him high toward center field.

When Frank Thomas played for the Blue Jays, he used to say the ball carries poorly to the power alleys when the roof is closed. It rained here last night, and Ortiz hit the ball to the power alley. Center fielder Vernon Wells drifted, put his heels against the fence, and stuck his glove in the air. The ball settled into his mitt.

"I hit the ball pretty damn good," Ortiz said. "I hit it to the deepest part of the place. That's too bad. I should be smarter than that."

In his next at-bat, Ortiz hit the ball differently, but hard again. He crunched a line drive to the right side. Lyle Overbay lunged toward the first base line and made a backhanded snare, robbing Ortiz of a likely double.

"I can't swing the bat no better than that," Ortiz said. "It's just, things aren't happening. You hit the ball, you got no control over it. You got to wait for the ball to go somewhere nobody is at. They get paid to catch it. I get paid to hit it."

Ortiz put his head down and skulked back to the dugout after Overbay's snag. Ortiz flied out weakly in his final two at-bats, but his first swings were "very encouraging" to Francona. The results presented Ortiz with a strange challenge. The hard-hit balls represent progress, but they could also bring a new kind of frustration.

"I think David would be much more encouraged if he had four RBIs to show for it," Francona said. "That's the apprehension you get a little bit when somebody is struggling. You hope they'll take some encouragement out of good swings. Because it's easy to not do that."

Ortiz spoke with a wide smile and acted playfully with reporters after the game. "You just keep on laughing at it," he said. "I might be able to fool some people."

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com

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