Nearly 11 and a half years since Minnesota released him to clear a roster spot for shortstop Jose Morban – a Rule 5 draftee who was subsequently cut before the start of the 2003 season – David Ortiz still hasn’t forgiven the Twins for giving up on him. And he seems intent on making them regret the decision every opportunity he gets.
Tuesday night at Target Field that vengeance nearly earned the Red Sox a victory, as Ortiz single-handedly kept the club in the game early, with a couple of homers and an RBI single, then added another run-scoring hit as part of a three-run rally that knotted the contest at six in the top of the seventh.
Had another ex-Twin exacted his own measure of revenge the Sox might’ve come away with a better result than an 8-6 walkoff loss. Instead, A.J. Pierzynski finished 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, the last of which came with the bases loaded and two outs, and on the heels of the surge-squelching double play he’d rolled into an inning earlier.
But despite the collective failure that sent the team back to .500 (at 19-19), Ortiz was successful in delivering his personal message to the Twins and general manager Terry Ryan, as he almost always has been – especially on visits to Minneapolis.
Entering Tuesday night’s series opener he had slugged 15 home runs in 54 games against his former team, which was a prominent reason for his 1.066 OPS, and he wasted little time making those great numbers look even gaudier. Ortiz took a big hack at the first pitch he saw from Twins starter Ricky Nolasco, flashing a just-missed-it smile when he fouled it off – then he made sure not to miss another, this time connecting on his mighty swing and lifting the ball beyond the wall in right field.
The next time up he was even quicker, crushing the first pitch of the fourth inning some 405 feet for his second homer of the game (ninth of the season), and then hitting the second pitch to left field for a single that plated Shane Victorino in the sixth. All told, by the time Ortiz had seen five pitches he was 3-for-3 with two taters, two runs scored, and three RBIs. And the Sox were trailing just 6-3 in spite of a poor start from Jake Peavy and a slumbering start for most of the other Boston bats.
“A big night,” manager John Farrell told reporters in Minnesota afterward. “He obviously feels very comfortable hitting in this ballpark, with the number of extra-base hits that he’s had here,” At one point he was really the only offense that we had.”
Ortiz has now hit seven homers in 12 career contests at Target Field, where he’s now 25-for-48 since the park opened back in 2010. That .521 average, along with a .582 on-base percentage, 1.020 slugging, and 1.602 OPS are all regular-season career highs for any stadium in which Ortiz has ever played as a big leaguer.
But when reporters asked what he liked about the place afterward, Ortiz said it had less to do with the surroundings than with the opposition.
“What do I like?” he asked. “Whooping the Twins’ ass.”
Ortiz’s most impressive at-bat of the night might have been his fourth, which came with his Sox facing a 6-4 deficit. There were men at first and second with two out, and the Twins summoned left-handed reliever Brian Duensing to stop the threat.
Duensing had retired Ortiz each of the first five times they’d met each other, with a couple of strikeouts, and he executed a couple of pitches in this encounter, too. Both were biting sliders that ran away from the hitter, and barely off the plate, but Ortiz let them pass and eventually ran the count full. On the 3-2 pitch he smacked a single to center, plating Shane Victorino and pulling the Sox within a run.
Minnesota did finally get Ortiz out in the ninth, when Glen Perkins whiffed him. That helped the Twins keep the game tied, and set the stage for Chris Parmelee to win it with a home off Andrew Miller.
But it still couldn’t keep Ortiz’s average against Minnesota from climbing to .344. Or his OBP to .436. Or his slugging to .670.
Just like Ortiz still can’t let go of what happened in December 2002, and carries that motivation with him every time he goes back to Minneapolis. Heck, anytime he goes anywhere.
“Every day,” he said.