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BOB RYAN

It was plain to see that he would hit

As a general rule, if you want to hit the baseball, you've got to see it.

In the late-afternoon mixture of sun and shadows at Fenway Park, it would be hard for a 10-year-old to connect on an underhand lob from his grandpa. So imagine what it was like for Johnny Damon, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, and, especially, David Ortiz as they tried to make contact with the nasty concoction of pitches being served up by Oakland's stellar closer, Keith Foulke, as they batted in the eighth inning, the Red Sox trailing by a run.

"I was talking about it with somebody," Ortiz confided. "I told them all you see is a black point coming right at me."

Well, OK, but somehow, some way, Ortiz redirected that "black point" on a laser-beam line over the head of right fielder Jermaine Dye for the winning two-run double in yesterday's latest installment of "Red Sox Adventure Theatre." The 5-4 victory sent them directly to Logan Airport and a cross-country flight to Oakland, Calif., where Grady Little will have the pleasure of sending Pedro Martinez to the mound at 5 o'clock this afternoon, PDT, in the hopes of vaulting his team into the American League Championship Series Wednesday night in New York, New York.

The idea of David Ortiz getting a clutch hit would not seem implausible based on his regular-season accomplishments, which included a disproportionate percentage of hits that would be classifed as "clutch" by any reasonable definition. But when he stepped to the plate in a two-out situation with Nomah (one-out Wall-job double) on third and Manny (sharp single to left, too sharp to score Nomah) on first, he was working on an 0-for-16 skid in this series, not to mention an additional 1 for 15 against the A's in the regular season.

Now you or I might be inclined to say that a man who was 0 for 16 was "struggling." But that's why he's David Ortiz, and we're not.

"I don't think I was struggling," he sniffed. "I'm just not hitting the ball where I want to."

That's a line Bob Uecker might consider incorporating into his shtick.

The way Ortiz framed it, there was nothing wrong with him. It was all about them.

"As everyone in this room knows, we faced the best pitching in the American League, and they made good pitches," Ortiz pointed out. "If I was struggling, I don't think I would have hit the ball to win the game. Don't give up on me, people. Come on."

So maybe it's a matter of semantics, or of him saying "tomato" and the rest of us saying "tomahto." Or maybe that's just the latest example of the difference in mental makeup between these great professionals and others with raw talent who find their careers stymied in Double A. If David Ortiz says 0 for 16 isn't struggling, then, by God, it's not struggling.

Further probing revealed that there were a few new things going on as Ortiz stepped into that batter's box. First of all, a right knee he had tweaked while running the bases in Game 1 was feeling better. During that 0 for 16 he had been chasing a lot of high pitches without success, but in his previous at-bat he had put a good swing on a Ricardo Rincon pitch, lining out hard to right.

"I was hitting standing up and I was chasing the pitches," Ortiz explained. "I'm not used to standing up. I bend my knee and put pressure on it. Maybe that's one of the reasons I was kind of up a little bit. Today I got a little lower, and I was hitting the ball better."

Foulke had been one of the Oakland pitchers making Ortiz chase the high stuff. In the fateful at-bat, Ortiz was conscious of making Foulke get the ball down.

"When we were [in Oakland], he was throwing me high fastballs, good fastballs about chest high, and I was chasing it," Ortiz said. "Today, I was trying to stay away from the pitch. That pitch, at 90 miles an hour, is tough to hit. He started me out there and I know he's got to change it. I tried looking for a pitch at my hip level."

The David Ortiz who stepped into that batter's box was not the same David Ortiz the A's had seen in Games 1, 2, and 3. In his mind, he wasn't 0 for 16. He was, at worst, 0 for 1. He took a high fastball to start, fouled one back, took two more (the 2-1 pitch was close enough that Foulke stared in at plate umpire Gerry Davis), and then swung and missed on the 3-1 pitch. The one thing he knew was that he wasn't going to chase the high heat.

Foulke dealed and Ortiz got one in his wheelhouse. The ball went straight at Dye, who had to fight the treacherous right-field Fenway sun that once blinded Lou Piniella in a game you might remember. If Dye had caught this ball, the catch would have been compared to the Dwight Evans Game 6 heist on Joe Morgan. But the ball sailed over Dye's head and one-hopped the visiting bullpen wall. Here the Red Sox caught one of the many breaks they needed to pull out these last two games. Had the ball bounced into the bullpen, it would have been a ground-rule double and Ramirez would have been sent back to third. But the ball remained in the field and Manny, who had been running on the 3-2 pitch, was able to slide across the plate with the winning run without drawing a throw.

The question remains: How did any of them hit the ball?

"What they all did was incredible," said Todd Walker, who had lined to center for the second out of the inning. "The only reason I hit the ball was that I was sitting 110 percent on his changeup, and that's what he threw me. "

Ortiz took a further stab at explaining what he was facing.

"You can see the white on the ball by that time; you can see it because you've got a shadow behind the pitcher and everything looks dark," he said. "When you have a shadow in between the pitcher you just -- you can see when the ball comes out of the pitch, but when it hits the shadows, it goes dark again. I don't know."

Got that?

Whatever the explanation, let it be known that Nomah, Manny, and Ortiz got huge hits in the shadowy eighth, while the A's submitted weakly to the newfound greatness of Scott Williamson, the man whose stuff Doug Mirabelli has labeled as "electric."

It was six up and six down for them. Guess they're not so good at hitting "black points."

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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