Ortiz homers propel Sox past Indians
CLEVELAND -- His ability to project the future prices of many types of goods made John Henry a billionaire capable of one day buying the Red Sox. His ability to project the future talent of one athlete in particular made him a fantasy league baseball success.
In March 1998, Henry drafted a Twins infielder who had one home run in 15 career games. Last night, that ex-Twin, David Ortiz, hit his 147th and 148th career home runs and added a sacrifice fly, fueling a 9-2 Sox demolition of the Indians before 28,450 at Jacobs Field.
Several times over the last seven years, Henry considered dumping the slugger -- whom Henry's real-life team, the Sox, signed in 2003 -- back onto the fantasy market. In 2001, Ortiz had wrist surgery and missed 57 games. In 2002, he had left knee surgery to remove bone chips and missed 23 games.
''All the injuries were unfortunate, but it was always evident that he could hit when healthy," Henry said in an e-mail last night. ''He is the epitome of the recent turn in New England's expectations in sports. Even though a batter is out the majority of the time, we all now expect him to come through when it counts -- just like the team."
''He said that?" said Ortiz. asked late last night. ''You do me a favor. You talk to him, tell him to give me a three-year extension."
Ortiz, due $5.25 million this season and $6.5 million next year, plus $7.75 million in 2007 if the team picks up his option, demonstrated yet again why he might be the definitive signing of Theo Epstein's young career, not to mention a relative bargain.
Ortiz had never faced Kevin Millwood before the 7 o'clock hour last night, when he came to the plate with Edgar Renteria (walk) aboard. On a 1-and-1 pitch, Ortiz powered a sinker away 419 feet over the wall in center.
Then in the fifth, Millwood threw Ortiz a nearly identical pitch -- same type, similar location -- that Ortiz cranked over the right-field wall.
''He's any Atlanta Braves pitcher," Ortiz said of Millwood, a product of the Atlanta system. ''He's going to throw away. Shhh. Don't tell anyone."
Ortiz's homers were his 17th and 18th of the season, while his four RBIs bumped him to 62, which led the American League for a few minutes. Alex Rodriguez regained the lead with 63 when he knocked in two runs in the Yankees' 20-11 undressing of Tampa Bay.
Though his two blasts traveled a combined 809 feet, Ortiz didn't appear to entirely connect with either ball.
''I didn't," he said. ''It's not all about being in balance or not. It's about having your weight behind you and putting out a good swing."
When Ortiz arrived in the big leagues with Minnesota, he was an opposite-field hitter with an inside-out swing. So pitchers began pounding him inside. He learned to be a pull hitter over time but could no longer hit the outside pitch.
One day, with Minnesota, he saw Cleveland's Jim Thome take Brad Radke deep twice, once to left field, once to right. Ortiz asked Thome if he consciously thought about which field he wanted to hit the ball to as he swung.
Thome's response: Never. Because, if he attempted to hit the ball the other way, he'd swing late far too often.
''What Thome told me then is what I think about today," said Ortiz.
His early offense, which helped provide a 4-0 lead, relaxed Bronson Arroyo, who delivered six scoreless innings before allowing his only run in the seventh on a one-out double by Victor Martinez, a ground out, and a wild pitch.
The Sox righthander, who went without a win in seven starts (0-3) between May 10 and June 10, won for the second straight time. He allowed just four hits, walked only one, and struck out four, improving to 6-3. Without that wild pitch, his ERA would have slipped into the 3.00s (he's at 4.02). After using the word ''sluggish" to describe his pitches and himself after being tagged for seven runs in four innings June 10 at Wrigley Field, the 190-pound Arroyo tinkered with his workout routine.
''More shoulder work," he said. ''We hoped that would give me a little more zip on my fastball and break on my curveball. It seems to be working."
His win gave the Sox eight in nine games, helping the club climb to a season-best 10 games above .500 and match last year's 40-30 mark through 70 games. He left leading, 6-1, supported by Ortiz's four RBIs, a sixth-inning Mark Bellhorn sac fly, and a sixth-inning Johnny Damon RBI double. Bellhorn knocked in another run in the eighth, with a laser of a double to center.
But John Halama, who pitched the eighth, gave up three consecutive one-out singles, loading the bases for Coco Crisp. Crisp hit a rope to right field.
But Trot Nixon, balky knee and all, leaped, grabbed the ball, and crashed into the wall. A run scored on the sacrifice fly, which was a few feet short of a grand slam that would have made it 7-5.
''We talk about the hitting," Francona said, ''but that was probably the play of the game."
In the ninth, the Manny Ramírez show continued. Ramírez, now hitting .363 in his last 20 games, cranked his second homer in as many days. His 383-foot blast in the ninth, on the first pitch he saw from David Riske, exited stage left. It was his 128th career homer in this park.