There’s only one acceptable excuse for why the Cardinals are still pitching to David Ortiz. Or at least for why they pitched to him last night. “Well, he can’t possibly get a hit every time . . .” Because that’s true. Everything we’ve ever learned about baseball supports the hypothesis that it’s impossible for a player to get a hit, or just reach base, in every single at-bat. Not even “Joe” from Baseball Stars could pull that off. This past season, Ortiz only got on base 39 percent of the time, and while that was good for fourth in the American League, in the big picture, it was still 39 percent. He failed to reach more than 60 percent of the time; he succeeded less than four times for every 10 at-bats.
But of course, Ortiz entered last night having reached base in 12 of 16 World Series at-bats, including seven straight. He had eight total hits. He was batting .721. And all those numbers were under a bright, hot and bearded spotlight as he stepped to the plate in the first inning. Runner on second. First base wide open. Adam Wainwright on the mound.
In retrospect, maybe the Cardinals really were just playing the odds. Playing real life. Working under the assumption that, “OK, this guy has reached base SEVEN straight times. His series OBP is .750! Sure, he’s hot. But he’s also human. At some point, this has to even out. Regardless of how we pitch to him, at some point he simply HAS to make an out. And right now, we’ve got our best pitcher on the mound. So why not?”
Maybe that’s what they were thinking, and like I said, that’s probably the only line of reasoning that makes even a little sense. But while they were thinking that, the rest of the baseball world was thinking: “Naaah, they’ll never pitc—“
Wrong. Before you could even process the thought, Ortiz turned on a cutter, pulled it down the line past a decrepit Allen Craig and scored Dustin Pedroia to give Boston an immediate 1-0 advantage. It wasn’t the winning run, but the value of that hit reached far beyond the scoreboard.
It broke the ice for a Sox lineup that’s recently struggled to score early in games. It put Wainwright in a hole before he could get comfortable. It presented Jon Lester with a cushion before he even took the mound, and with the way he’s dealing in these playoffs, that’s almost unfair.
Ortiz picked up two more hits on the night. He’s now hitting .733 for the series.
- Rich Levine, CSN New England