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Ortiz heroics? Yaz can relate

The clutch guys all have some kind of routine. Carl Yastrzemski would bend over, scoop up some dirt, then rub it into both hands like a man intent on starting a fire. David Ortiz spits into his batting gloves, then mashes his hands together as he prepares to hit.

Ortiz rescued the Red Sox again Friday night. When it looked like the suddenly banjo-hitting Franconamen were going to lose, 2-1, Big Papi crushed a solo homer in the sixth inning that tied the score and allowed the Sox to win it in the 10th.

And so it goes for Boston's greatest clutch hitter since Yaz.

Nobody ever talked about a ''walkoff homer" when Yastrzemski played, and there's no evidence that Yaz ended games with the frequency of Big Papi, but Captain Carl singlehandedly won a pennant for Boston in 1967 and managed to play his best in autumn any time he had a chance.

Now Yaz watches Ortiz and admires the work of his September successor.

''He's made himself into a hell of a hitter," Yastrzemski said yesterday when reached at his home. ''He hits for power. He hits for average. Whatever they need, he seems to come up with it."

Just like Yaz in '67. We never thought we'd see his equal. Until now.

En route to becoming the last big league player to win a Triple Crown, Yaz dominated the greatest pennant race of them all, hitting .417 (40 for 96) with 9 homers and 26 RBIs after Sept. 1. When the Sox needed to win the final two games of the season in order to stay alive, he went 7 for 8.

How does that happen? How did Yaz do it? How does Ortiz do it?

''You just get so locked in," said the greatest living Red Sox player. ''Nothing bothers you at all. You don't hear the fans. You don't hear anything. You just have this tremendous focus. You think you're the only person in the ballpark.

''It's like, 'Get the ball up here, you're not going to get me out.' On the other hand, when you're not in the zone, the catcher can tell you what's coming and you still can't hit it."

In 1967, Yastrzemski had Reggie Smith hitting in the No. 2 spot and Tony Conigliaro or (after Tony C was beaned) Ken Harrelson hitting behind him at cleanup.

''The big thing then was that they couldn't pitch around me," he noted. ''In those last two games when I went 7 for 8, there were men on base every time I came up. That's what helps Ortiz. He's got Damon and Renteria always getting on base ahead of him and he's got Manny behind him. There's not going to be too many opportunities to pitch around him."

After crushing a single off the Wall in the first inning of the Red Sox' 2-1 victory over the A's last night, Ortiz is hitting .310 (17 for 55) with 7 homers and 14 RBIs thus far in September. He also hit 11 homers in August. The New York Times yesterday characterized Ortiz as ''maybe more terrifying than any hitter on the planet."

Already in September, Ortiz has hit five homers that have either tied the game or put the Sox ahead. He has cemented his reputation as Mr. Walkoff. The A's walked him intentionally in the 10th Friday, leading to Manny Ramirez getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to win the game. Such is the impact of Big Papi.

''He's really blossomed since he came over here from Minnesota," added Yastrzemski, who works with young Sox hitters in Fort Myers, Fla., each spring. ''And it doesn't matter what park he plays in because of the power he has. I'll tell you this, though. It's not easy being a DH. I'd much rather play in the field."

In 1967, Yastrzemski was a nearly unanimous MVP (one writer in Minnesota inexplicably voted for Cesar Tovar), and Ortiz has a shot to win the award this year. Oh, and before we forget, Mr. Jim Ed Rice, who was MVP in 1978, hit 10 home runs and knocked in 26 runs in September when the Sox were folding. Thirty of Rice's 46 homers that year either tied games or put the Sox ahead.

Clutch hitting? Stats Inc. has come up with a measurement. Counting situations in which the hitter is batting in the seventh inning or later, with his team ahead by a run, tied, or with the tying run on base, at bat, or on deck (quite a mouthful and bless the man who compiles this stuff), Ortiz leads the American League with 9 homers, 28 RBIs, and a .786 slugging percentage.

''You just have to have men on base when you come up," said Yastrzemski. ''That's the biggest thing. When I was up there in that situation, I was always thinking fastball, and if I didn't get it, I'd just figure out what's coming."

Yaz hit .352 with 3 homers and 9 RBIs in 14 World Series games. He hit .455 with a homer and two RBIs in his only LCS. In 65 postseason at-bats, he fanned only three times. In the one-game playoff against the Yankees in '78, he homered off lightning lefty Ron Guidry, pulling a fastball inside the foul pole. He was 39 years old.

Now he sits and watches as those damn Yankees mount another charge, sending fear into the hearts of the Fenway fandom. Yaz believes the Sox will prevail in the American League East.

''I just think they have a better team than the Yankees," he said. ''The Yankees just don't have the pitching and the Red Sox do."

The Yankees also don't have David Ortiz. Mr. September. Senor Octubre.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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