BOSTON – In the first inning of this year's World Series, David Ortiz, the Boston Red Sox's behemoth designated hitter, squared around to bunt. The only explanation for this would be that Fox seriously lacks good comedy programming this fall and asked Big Papi to provide a laugh.
Yes, Ortiz has bunted before, done so for base hits even, and yet this seemed the kind of brain fart reserved for his brother-in-bashing, Manny Ramirez. Both, after all, are doing their usual postseason Charleston all over opposing pitchers, and the bunt single, however utilitarian it might have been, was beneath Ortiz.
The pitch from Colorado Rockies starter Jeff Francis screamed foul off Ortiz's bat – even when he doesn't try, he hits it hard – and he ended up grounding out to first and advancing Kevin Youkilis from second to third base.
After that, no one could get Ortiz out. Ramirez, either. In the Red Sox's 13-1 butchering of the Rockies at Fenway Park on Wednesday night, Ortiz smacked two doubles and a single before flying out in his final at-bat. Ramirez singled, intentionally walked, doubled and singled again prior to his flyout. The Nos. 3 and 4 hitters scored and drove in nine runs and proved that for all of Youkilis' intensity and Dustin Pedroia's pluck and Mike Lowell's steadiness and Jason Varitek's fire – for all of the Red Sox's inanimate advantages – two tangible things, the bats of Ortiz and Ramirez, are the corn in Boston's ethanol.
"When you're trying to get 'em out, you've got to pitch," Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan said. "It's not like, 'OK, he's really a sucker if you bounce a breaking ball or fastball, up and out of the zone, he'll chase it.' Yeah, they will occasionally, but for the most part, when it's a very important at-bat, you'd better make some quality pitches.
"If not, it has a chance to get out of hand."
Which it did in a hurry Wednesday. Francis imploded in his World Series debut. Franklin Morales, the rookie who spent most of the season at Double-A, yielded seven runs with two outs in the fifth inning. The Red Sox churned through at-bats like a bartender muddling mint leaves, pounding and pounding and pounding, happy to put runners on base for their boppers.
Because Ortiz and Ramirez are in the midst of perhaps the greatest postseason baseball has seen from a pair of teammates. Ortiz is hitting .417, Ramirez .441. Ortiz is getting on base nearly 55 percent of the time, Ramirez 60 percent. Both are slugging better than .800. And they've combined for seven home runs, 24 RBI and 25 runs.
"If I get on or Youk gets on or whoever's in front of them gets on base, they've got a good opportunity of scoring," Pedroia said. "Those two guys have been phenomenal all year long."
Well, Ortiz at least. Hobbled all season by a right knee injury that will require surgery this offseason, he put up the best average and on-base percentage of his career and nearly equaled his best slugging percentage despite hitting 35 home runs, 19 fewer than last season. Ramirez missed almost all of September with an oblique injury. Ask Ramirez where an oblique is and he'll probably shrug his shoulders – Red Sox officials wondered how hurt he really was – though if it took a month off for him to help forget a subpar 20-home run, 88-RBI season, so be it.
For injured guys, they look rather healthy.
Ortiz shuffled out of the clubhouse before its doors swung open, and Ramirez played hooky in the back, so neither had anything to say to reporters. The bats did the talking, yada yada. All they left were empty lockers, situated next to each other and resembling the scene of a burglary. The floor was covered with their wares: wristbands, batting gloves, shower sandals, tape, a first-base glove with the word "PIMP" stitched along the side in all caps, T-shirts, hats, underwear, a letter to Ortiz from Vernon Wells' artist father, boxes, gift bags, Louis Vuitton luggage, cell phones, shoe boxes, lotion and a mess of extraneous clutter.
Mom would not approve.
Magadan, on the other hand, does not require his sluggers to clean their rooms. They can have the car keys anytime, so long as they keep making him look like a genius.
"When you see Manny take a swing like he did the other night in Cleveland," Magadan said, reminiscing on the Red Sox's Game 4 loss in the American League championship series. "Down and away, 95-mph fastball, and he hit it 460 feet into the night. It was a meaningless home run at the time, but I was like, 'Good Lord, how do you do that?'
"When I was with other teams, I always made a point to watch Manny hit. He does everything I believe in as a hitter. And David's the same way. He hits a lot of home runs, whatever. But he's got the ability to do what he did tonight. Realize when a pitcher's not going to give him anything to pull and hit the ball the other way."
In the second inning, Ortiz noticed that Francis fancied the outside corner and stroked a double into left-center field. Two innings later, Ramirez did the same, shooting the gap in right-center. Each time, the fans at Fenway Park stood and saluted their leading men, the rightful heirs to Teddy Ballgame and Yaz.
No matter Ramirez's antics – the trade requests, the loafing, the defensive lapses, the "injuries" – he remains embraced here, the crazy uncle who always curses too loud at the party and gets invited the next time anyway. Ortiz, on the other hand, really is Papi, the father figure, the one who comforts.
When the rest of the lineup pounds the ball, too – "We're doing a nice job now," Lowell said, "that's for sure" – well, that's just excess, a man gorging himself on an all-you-can-eat buffet, Tycho Brahe drinking so much that he literally burst. Yet in the end, Ortiz and Ramirez drive the Red Sox's success on offense, and sometimes the success, period.
"I'm sure," Magadan said, "they're over there saying, 'OK, we can't let these two guys beat us.' "
How about that for a laugh?
- Red Sox