The mere fact that he enters this series mired in a 1 for 20 drought doesn’t scream perfect timing for the Yankees.
If there is one thing to be assured of when the Red Sox and Yankees meet each other, it is that the stakes are elevated no matter the month of the calendar, and that David Ortiz will respond, as he has repeatedly and almost expectedly done every time the situation calls.
There is no other park in the majors that Ortiz performs better in than Yankee Stadium, where he has a .326 career average with 11 homers (of his 16 career dingers against New York). Last season, Ortiz sizzled in the Bronx, hitting at a .412 clip over nine games with three homers and eight runs batted in. Last Monday, he belted a three-run home run at Fenway that gave helped Red Sox win the first meeting of 2006 between these two storied rivals.
He is Yankee Kryptonite, the man who comes back to beat them over and over and over again.
And some, apparently, have had enough of it.
The New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro today suggests that Yankees pitchers resort to knocking Ortiz down tonight when Randy Johnson toes the hill against Josh Beckett. Funny, this is the sort of action for which his New York media friends used to refer to Pedro Martinez as a thug.
“Look, no one is suggesting the Yankees aim at Ortiz' head, or his ribs, and nobody is suggesting they should be looking to injure Ortiz -- or even give him a free base by plunking him in his posterior,” Vaccaro writes. “But the Yankees have treated Papi as if it's suddenly against the law to move a man off the plate. Clemens called it ‘plate coverage.’ The rest of us lay men call it a ‘comfort zone.’”
Not only do we have the potential of a couple of hothead pitchers on the mound blowing their composure at any moment, we could have this possibility to look forward to as well. If Johnson does plunk Ortiz at any point tonight, you can guarantee that Beckett responds immediately, and then there could be another eruption of emotional tension, ala 2004 at Fenway Park. Heck, Beckett will probably start frothing at the mouth in the dugout in anticipation of drilling the first guy he sees. Someone tell Russ Kenn to make sure and get that shot tonight.
Ah, and it’s only May.
Even if Johnson does manage to just back Ortiz off the plate, is there any doubt that Ortiz will deposit the next pitch he sees into the short porch in right? That seems to be the familiar Ortiz reaction we’ve become accustomed to. And will there be any doubt that Beckett will still retaliate? That seems to be the familiar Beckett reaction we’ve become accustomed to.
Of course, the Yankees picked up lefty Mike Myers in the offseason to control some of the late-inning damage Ortiz has done against them. The former Boston pitcher came into the game last Monday during the eighth inning, and in a classic “How’s that working for ya?” moment, Ortiz launched his game-clinching bomb to center through a stiff wind.
Vaccaro refers back to 2003, when then-Yankee Roger Clemens hinted that the next time he faced Ortiz he’d have to make “adjustments” in the way he approached the slugger. Clemens never did knock Ortiz down that year, not having the opportunity to do so, and apparently declining to test the limits of such an act in October. Nobody on the Yankees’ staff has come even close to doing so since.
Of all the current New York pitchers that might, only Johnson leaps to mind. Which, when you think about it, says just as much about the tenacity of the Yankee pitching staff over the years as it does Ortiz’s dominance against them.
"Part of pitching to someone is keeping them from being too comfortable," New York manager Joe Torre told the Hartford Courant. "We just need to do a more quality job of pitching to him, and that's not easy because he is so selective at the plate."
Ortiz’s only apparent weak spots are up and away, and high in the zone. His ability to pull the inside pitch makes lefties no match for him. In fact, so far this season, when it seems the Red Sox face a lefthander every other night, he’s hitting them at a better rate (.277 with five homers in 47 at-bats) than righthanders (.243, six homers in 74 at-bats). Johnson might be another story though.
Last September, Ortiz sat against the Unit in a pivotal late-season showdown with a tweaked back, a game in which Johnson brilliantly beat Boston, 1-0. He has yet to lose a game against the Red Sox as a Yankee (5-0). A couple of days later, Ortiz hit a game-winning homer in Toronto.
Ortiz managed to hit just .167 against the Big Unit in 18 at-bats last season, the only Yankees pitcher besides Mariano Rivera against whom he failed to hit at least .400. Is it that kind of limited intimidation that could be exceeded by the Yankees tonight by backing Ortiz off the plate?
The only question is, why haven’t they already? I guess the answer is, they probably know what we all assume. He’d just find another, more devastating way to beat them in the end. Because that’s what David Ortiz does against the Yankees, who have run out of ideas in their quest for a solution to the menace he has become.
So, go ahead. Knock him down. That should wake him out of his slump pretty swiftly.