Ortiz's homers help Red Sox jolt White Sox to extend home streak to 12
Together they stood, Kevin Millar and Doug Mirabelli, in the on-deck circle at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago July 22, watching as 24-year-old Bobby Jenks, all 270 pounds of him, warmed up. Jenks, who can throw a baseball close to 100 miles per hour, fired fastball after fastball.
Millar and Mirabelli turned to each other and said, in so many words, that a fastball is a fastball, and they'd be able to hit one. Then, Jenks, continuing his warmup, dropped a curveball over the plate.
''If he throws that," Millar told Mirabelli that day, ''we're [in trouble]."
Indeed, both whiffed that day. Last night, in the eighth inning of the Red Sox' entertaining and emotional 9-8 win over the White Sox, it was David Ortiz's turn vs. Jenks.
''It's not a good matchup for anybody, a guy throwing 98," Mirabelli later said. ''But if you want anybody up there, you want David. He has the ability."
Ortiz never let Jenks get to that hook. The first pitch came in at 98. The second was a near carbon copy. The third reached the strike zone at 96 and left the yard even quicker, struck by a thunderous Ortiz swing that supplied his second homer in as many innings, this a three-run blast to dead center that upped the Sox lead to 9-5 before a pulsating gathering of 35,132, the 200th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park.
At the time it was merely decorative, a nice tack-on that followed Ortiz's tiebreaking solo homer an inning earlier off Chicago starter and Cy Young contender Mark Buehrle. But, when Curt Schilling surrendered three runs with two outs in the Chicago ninth on two Monster-clearing blasts -- a solo shot by Tadahito Iguchi and a two-run laser by Paul Konerko -- Ortiz's eighth-inning homer proved the game-winner.
''No," captain Jason Varitek said, when asked if he is any longer surprised by the slugging and smiling designated hitter. ''He is something special."
And, so is the baseball the Red Sox are playing. The win? The club's fifth straight. They've scored 52 runs in those games. The home win? The team's 12th in a row, most since Joe Morgan's 1988 club reeled off 24 consecutive victories. In those 12 games, they're hitting .319 and averaging 8.5 runs per game. At 37-18, the Sox continue to boast the best home record in the American League.
And this one came against the team with baseball's best record -- 74-39 before last night. The Sox, little more than a .500 team for much of this season, have won 13 of 15 and, at 67-47, have only seven fewer wins than the White Sox. They've done this, of course, by pounding teams.
''This lineup," David Wells said, ''is incredible."
Wells received a no-decision -- his successor in the seventh inning, Chad Bradford, picked up the win -- but the lefthander did pitch 6 2/3 innings and has lost just once in his last 15 starts. Wells was ill yesterday -- ''He lost his lunch a couple times," manager Terry Francona said -- but he was able to overcome early difficulties, both his own and his team's.
Manny Ramirez dropped a fading Konerko liner in the first for what would have been the third out. Aaron Rowand then tripled to center -- Johnny Damon got a bad read on the ball and it cleared him -- for two unearned runs.
In the second, with two on and two out and two strikes on Iguchi, Wells hit the Chicago second baseman on his right arm. Carl Everett then followed with a two-run double for a 4-0 Chicago lead. Everett, who at 34 is no dinosaur, later homered to lead off the fifth with a purely Sheffieldian liner that came to a screaming halt deep in the Monster seats. That rocket, Everett's 17th, upped Chicago's lead to 5-3.
''He's a tremendous hitter," Wells said. ''I'd want him on my team. He's a gamer. A lot of people don't like him. I like him. He's great."
But Varitek would erase that two-run lead in the bottom half with as majestic a blast as you'll see by a righthanded Sox hitter not named Ramirez. Varitek, with Ortiz aboard, sat on a 1-and-0 Buehrle changeup and split the uprights (over the signage and between the light towers) in left.
Varitek's powerful stroke underscored an emerging theme: the Red Sox crush lefthanded pitching. Last night marked the Sox' 20th win vs. a lefthanded starter, which tied the White Sox for the second most in the AL. Boston went into last night third in the majors in batting average vs. lefties at .287, and that is largely thanks to Varitek (.369 vs. lefties going into last night), Damon (.351), and Edgar Renteria (.341). All three ranked in the top seven in the AL entering last night in batting average vs. lefthanded pitchers -- Varitek third, Damon fourth, and Renteria seventh. Ortiz, meanwhile, has a better average vs. lefties (.305) than righties (.293).
Ozzie Guillen: How do you match up with that?
He couldn't. Asked if the Sox have as good a lineup as there is, the White Sox manager said, ''There's no doubt about it. Especially in this ballpark."
All he had to look to for validation of that was his staff ace. In two games this season vs. Boston, Buehrle has this unbecoming line: 0-1 (with one no-decision), 13 innings, 22 hits, 11 runs, 9 earned runs, 5 walks, 3 strikeouts. Buehrle went into last night 13-4 with a 2.79 ERA, though that jumped to 2.99.
He surrendered Ortiz's first homer in the seventh but gave way to the bullpen and Jenks, whom Ortiz connected off of for his fifth multihomer game of the season. His six RBIs established a career high.
Not a bad night for Sox owner John Henry's fantasy team (he picked Ortiz in the fourth round, 43d overall, in his rotisserie league draft in March 1998). Not a bad night for his real team, either.
''The way he swung the bat tonight, you don't rob those, unless an usher wants to go and get it," said Francona. ''Those are some beautiful swings."