David Ortiz’s encounter with Neal Cotts in Tuesday night’s eighth inning rendered a result typical of the battles between the Red Sox designated hitter and the Rangers reliever. Cotts won, needing only four pitches to strike out the slugger, and to leave Ortiz 0-for-5 lifetime – with five whiffs and a walk – against the lefty.
The Red Sox eventually lost, but as overmatched as he might’ve looked in the moment, it wasn’t an entirely unproductive plate appearance for Ortiz. “That at-bat I had against him the other night,” the DH said Wednesday, “it helped me out to make some adjustments today.
“And it worked.”
Did it ever. Facing Cotts again, this time with the tying and go-ahead runs on the corners in the eighth, Ortiz applied his adapted approach in a most dramatic fashion. A day after being punched out on a pitch away, he turned on a mistake Cotts left thigh-high over the inner half and crushed it – the arching blast staying fair long enough to clear the right-field foul pole as it soared deep into the grandstands and made 4-2 winners of the Bronx-bound Sox.
“He’s a guy that his ball moves hard away late, against lefties especially. This is a guy that you kind of get to see him once in a while,” Ortiz said. “I’m the kind of hitter that I always believe one at-bat – one good at-bat – gets your momentum going, especially when things are not going that well.”
Entering that moment things hadn’t been going particularly well for his team or for himself, the club five outs away from dropping five of six on its opening homestand, and Ortiz having taken a 3-for-21 slump into Wednesday’s middle innings.
But he broke out of that with a vicious double that reached the garage door in center field on a line in the sixth, then he carried that confidence into his turn against Cotts two innings later, when Jackie Bradley Jr.’s leadoff walk and A.J. Pierzynski’s pinch-hit single set the stage, and after Dustin Pedroia hit into a fielder’s choice the star of so many of these moments stepped into the box.
Three pitches later, appearing to be looking for something in, he opened up a tick early and for the 24th time in his career he launched a homer that put his team ahead in the eighth inning or later. The previous clout had come against Texas, too, last June. Oh, and between then and now the ever-clutch Ortiz had himself a decent postseason, too.
“He just needs the stage to be set up for him to come to play,” said Jake Peavy, whose 6.2 innings of one-run ball kept the Sox in the game while they managed just two hits through the first seven frames. “David’s a hall of famer.
“He’s as good as anybody who’s ever put this uniform on, and I say that hands down. I know there’s some great history here – I can’t imagine anybody more clutch. You look at what he did in the postseason, in previous postseasons, what he’s done throughout his many seasons here, once again today – even when he’s down and out, when he’s not seeing the ball, he comes through in the big moment. I’m glad he’s on my side.”
That was a common theme in the home clubhouse afterward, where a room of veterans readied for a trip to New York, relieved to be making that trip as victors rather than reeling at what could’ve been a 3-6 record.
“Seems like we’re just trying to win the ballgame and he’s adding to his hall-of-fame resume,” said left fielder Jonny Gomes. “It’s hard enough to hit in this game, at this level. It’s a step harder to situational hit. And even a step higher to get the situation done, I mean, all the way down to where we needed a grand slam against Detroit. Not just a walk; we need you to get them all. And he did. He shines the most when the lights are the brightest.”
Asked if he was surprised that opponents still try to challenge him with hard stuff in, Ortiz shook his head. “No. I’m old, man,” the 38-year-old said. “They’re trying to take advantage of that.”
But with age comes experience. With experience comes the opportunity to gain knowledge.
And Wednesday evening Ortiz took full advantage of what he’d learned on Tuesday night.
“He’s always such a game-changer – and he knows that,” catcher David Ross said. “Even when he doesn’t look good sometimes, he’s one pitch away from changing the game.”