David Ortiz stepped to the plate in the 11th inning on a hot summer day before a packed Fenway Park and saw the shift he often sees.
He's mumbled about it under his breath. Called it every name in the book. And once claimed it was costing him 30-40 points on his batting average.
It had been a long day, and Ortiz, who went 4 for 5, including his 35th homer, had a charity event to go to. He didn't want to cut it close. And so he delivered, not in usual ``Big Papi" style with a majestic stroke where he sends the ball into oblivion. This time, he saw the shift and decided to have some fun with it. He chose not to fight it; he just wanted to beat it.
And so, he stroked a pool cue shot to where the shortstop would normally be playing. Bingo. The Red Sox had pulled out a game -- 7-6 over the Angels -- they needed as much as any they've played this season. Why? Because the Yankees were getting clobbered by Tampa Bay. It was a chance to pull ahead by 1 1/2 games in the American League East.
There has been some tension in the Sox clubhouse, the type the trading deadline usually brings. Team sources last night indicated the Sox aren't close to a deal, and disputed a report that center fielder Coco Crisp is being shopped. Crisp has been mostly quiet and sometimes snippy lately. But the Sox, according to one National League general manager, have been ``burning up the phone lines. I don't think there's a team trying any harder than Boston to make a deal over the last 24 hours."
So we wait. The Padres had scouts at Fenway yesterday, presumably focusing on the Sox. In need of a third baseman, the Padres have been eyeing Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis, but were told that neither was available in a trade for righthanded setup man Scott Linebrink.
Major league sources say the Sox may be lining up a couple of deals, with one contingent upon the other. There are signs the Sox might still be in on the Julio Lugo talks with Tampa Bay. Fox Sports reported the Cardinals are interested in Red Sox second baseman Mark Loretta, which could be the prelude to a deal for Lugo, who would play second in Boston.
The Orioles also had scouts at Fenway yesterday, presumably to watch the Angels in a possible deal for Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada. The Sox are still interested in Colorado first base prospect Ryan Shealy.
The Phillies have been mentioned as a possible trade partner with many teams. Starters Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle, lefthanded relievers Arthur Rhodes and Rheal Cormier, and outfielder Bobby Abreu all have been mentioned in scenarios involving the Sox. Lieber, Lidle, and Abreu have also been linked to possible deals with the Yankees.
Sox GM Theo Epstein has not been available to comment for a few days. Owner John W. Henry said in an e-mail in response to if he felt a deal needed to be made, ``Our record thus far is indicative of a very strong team. Everyone has needs. There are no perfect teams this year."
Yesterday, the Sox were perilously close to dropping the first two games of the weekend series, before Lowell's two-run double tied it in the eighth, Manny Ramírez gunned down the go-ahead run at the plate in the top of the 11th, and what we've come to expect from Ortiz in the bottom of the 11th.
The Sox are 13-15 against teams with winning records, and if ever they needed to begin turning that record around, it's now. Great players seize the moment, sense when their team needs a boost.
Ortiz singled home Boston's first run in the first inning, only to be thrown out at second base trying to stretch it to a double. He singled home another run in the fifth, homered to lead off the bottom of eighth, and also reached on an intentional walk in the ninth (which worked out for the Angels when Ramírez hit into a double play).
With two outs in the bottom of the 11th , Angels manager Mike Scioscia brought in lefthander J.C. Romero to replace Hector Carrasco. Ortiz got the hard sinker he expected and Sox fans got the result they expected, sending Boston to a big win, and Ortiz to his charity event.
``Yup, I was," said Ortiz when asked if he hit the ball the other way intentionally. `` Just this one time. I got a hard sinker. I wasn't going to hit a ground ball to first base. Forget it. I was just going to try to stay inside the ball and try to hit it the other way."
Ortiz, who registered his fourth walkoff hit of the season and 14th of his career during the regular season, knows the shift will never go away.
``Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," he said. ``It's hard but this game sometimes is more mental. Whatever you put in your mind, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I just go out there and try to do my job."