THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Tony Massarotti

Feeling uneasy the rule vs. NL

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By Tony Massarotti
Globe Columnist / June 29, 2009
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ATLANTA - Adios, farewell, and good riddance to National League rules. The Red Sox won’t see another double switch until 2010.

Or, perhaps, October.

“I just feel so embarrassed when I do something wrong out there,’’ designated hitter by trade David Ortiz said yesterday following a busy day at first base that ended with the Red Sox dropping a 2-1 decision to the Atlanta Braves. “You’ve got a guy pitching his [tail] off out there and you just feel bad. Nothing happened [as a result of Ortiz’s mistakes], but you feel like, ‘What the [heck] am I doing?’ ’’

Something suggests he wasn’t alone.

In the end, the Red Sox emerge from baseball’s answer to reverse-sweater night with an 11-7 record in interleague play, having won five of six series. One of their losses featured closer Jonathan Papelbon’s only blown save of the season. Another was a rain-shortened, five-inning affair against the Florida Marlins. In the end, the Sox’ annual summer fling with the NL could have been better and could have been worse, though 11-7 translates into a 99-win pace over the course of a 162-game schedule.

Know what we learned in the end? Zero. In 2006, the Sox went 16-2 against the NL and 70-74 the rest of the time en route to an 86-76 finish and their only postseason absence since 2002. The Sox looked like world beaters against the NL and paper tigers against the American League, which can skew the data in a game that has become increasingly mathematical.

“I’m not a big fan of it,’’ said Kevin Youkilis, who went 1 for 3 with a walk yesterday and batted .190 this interleague season. “I don’t think it’s fair when you’re battling for a wild card and you don’t [more frequently] play some of the teams you’re battling with.’’

Before yesterday’s game, for what it’s worth, manager Terry Francona made a similar remark. While the Red Sox are among those clubs who will benefit from interleague play, consider the plight of, say, the reigning world champion Phillies, whose win over the Blue Jays yesterday left their 2009 interleague record at 6-12. The Phillies and Rockies (11-4 with yesterday’s win over Oakland) very well could end up fighting for a playoff spot, at which point the discrepancy in interleague records could be a determining factor.

And then there is this: While the Phillies were playing the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays, the Rockies were playing the far less intimidating AL West.

Life isn’t fair, as we all know. But shouldn’t the schedule be?

In the case of the Red Sox, their interleague record during Francona’s six years as manager is second best in baseball, behind only that of the Twins, who pulled one game ahead with yesterday’s win over the Cardinals. Despite that fact, Francona still dislikes interleague play, which should tell you plenty.

No wonder Francona was excited about the prospect of traveling to Baltimore for tonight’s series opener with the Orioles.

“At least we can have our DH DH-ing. That’s a little more comfortable,’’ Francona said. “We’re trying to do some things we’re not used to [in NL parks].’’

Among the most obvious has been utilizing Ortiz as a fielder, something the Sox generally have avoided despite the fact that Ortiz was named the best defensive first baseman in 1996 in the Single A Midwest League. (“Is that true Papi?’’ an eavesdropping Jacoby Ellsbury asked incredulously.) There were two occasions yesterday on which the need to have Ortiz afield could have hurt the Sox, the first when he mishandled an easy Gregor Blanco bunt, the second when he failed to scoop a throw from Nick Green.

Even on the plays Ortiz made, there was cause to hold one’s breath. Ortiz twice had to lead a lumbering Brad Penny covering first, one big man feeding another in what amounted to considerably more than 500 pounds of PFP (pitcher’s fielding practice).

“The tough one is when you have to throw to the pitcher [overhand],’’ Ortiz said with a straight face, “because pitchers, you know, they’re really not good fielders.’’

Beyond interleague and postseason play, Ortiz has started just 66 games at first base during his Red Sox career, 39 in 2003, when the Sox all but held community auditions at the position while initially entrusting the job to Jeremy Giambi. Since the start of the 2005 season, Ortiz has started just five AL games at first base and none since 2006, when his last appearance came Aug. 5 against Tampa Bay.

“My mentality when I’m out there is like, ‘I’m a Gold Glover,’ ’’ Ortiz cracked. “I was pretty good at defense until I got humongous. I got to the big leagues and I gained like 30 pounds, and we had [Doug] Mientkiewicz over there, and he was a Gold Glover [in 2001]. Then I got here and we had like 20 first basemen. Next thing I know I was DH-ing, and that’s it.

“People always make a big deal about first basemen, but most of ’em stink, anyway,’’ Ortiz mused. “They just hit.’’

Ortiz hit yesterday, too, contributing one of the Red Sox’ five hits while continuing to have good at-bats. (He saw 16 pitches in his first two plate appearances.) He went 5 for 15 with a pair of homers and five RBIs during his five games at first base on this road trip, providing a chunk of the Sox’ offense on a weekend during which they scored all of six runs.

In the last four games, in fact, the Red Sox have scored just nine runs without the designated hitter and against a succession of talented pitchers, only making them more eager to return to the AL full time.

So, is Ortiz ready to become a DH again full time?

“Heck yeah,’’ he said without hesitation.

His glove, in fact, was already packed.

Tony Massarotti can be reached at tmassarotti@globe.com.

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