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Power play for Ortiz

Struggling slugger recharges batteries

There was nothing wrong with David Ortiz that a few dozen fastballs, served Iron Mike-like, couldn't fix.

Case in point: the 1-and-1 offering Orioles reliever Kerry Ligtenberg served up in the eighth inning last night, a fastball right down Broadway that the Red Sox DH delivered promptly to the center-field bleachers to turn a 6-5 squeaker into a slightly-more-roomy 7-5 Sox lead -- a lead that stood up.

"I had to," said a smiling Ortiz, asked if he had picked on a fastball for his 28th homer. "I can't hit a breaking ball right now."

Ortiz, among the many surprise delights in the Red Sox batting order this year, entered the evening in a 2-for-14 funk. Some of the swagger that brought his first 27 homers and 94 RBIs had diminished, and prior to his homer, he had banged into a double play, rolled out to second, and singled to right for his 95th RBI. Not the worst of nights, but not what the Fenway faithful have grown to expect from the tower of power.

"I've seen him improving all season until the last two or three days," said Sox manager Grady Little. "Then I saw a young man trying to readjust his goals for the season, and trying to reach them in every single at-bat. He went into a little tailspin for a couple of days, but he certainly looked like he was back there tonight."

For the most part, it was the kind of night that former Baltimore manager Earl Weaver loved to see when his Orioles were at the plate. While the Orioles were chipping away at five Boston hurlers away for 13 hits, the Sox were capped at a more humble nine hits -- but six for extra bases, including homers by Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon, and Ortiz, a Todd Walker triple, and doubles from Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar.

The Red Sox now have a major league-record 626 extra-base hits, and Ortiz has 69 of them. As Weaver knew, there is nothing like the long ball to make a manager smile.

"I've just got to keep working, keep working," said Ortiz, who signed as a free agent in the offseason after a half-dozen seasons in the Twins organization. "You're not going to be great the whole year. You're going to face some bumps in the road, but you have to stay with it."

It's all the easier to find your way out of the dark when the power remains on all around you. Damon and Walker had their extra-base hits in the first inning, when the Sox put three runs on the board. Ramirez opened the fourth with his homer into the Sox bullpen, and two outs later, Nixon delivered his round-tripper.

"We know what we're capable of offensively," said Little. "We also know that we can't count on it every night."

Most of the season, Ortiz's offense has been a given. Even with his recent travails, he entered last night with a .572 slugging percentage, trailing only Alex Rodriguez (.606), Ramirez (.583), and Nixon (.574).

It's too late to catch A-Rod, but with a few more fastballs, Ortiz could surpass his teammates on the power pole.

"I hope so," said Ortiz, asked if he felt the long ball might have shaken him from his doldrums. "I'd like to get a few more like that."

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