Like Josh Beckett, yesterday's starting pitcher, said after the Red Sox' 7-6, 11-inning victory over the Los Angeles Angels before 35,621 at Fenway Park, it has become the team joke.
He can't do it again, can he?
He, of course, is David Ortiz. And yes, he did it again, beating the Angels' shift in the 11th with an opposite-field single to drive home Alex Gonzalez with the winning run. The single off lefthander J.C. Romero, likely snared by any shortstop playing a standard alignment, landed in the outfield three innings after his solo homer touched down in the center-field bleachers, a shot that kicked off a three-run, tying rally.
Earlier in the game, Ortiz had called his clout -- one that center fielder Chone Figgins, who fell one putout short of tying a big league record when he caught 11 fly balls yesterday, had no chance of bringing back -- to manager Terry Francona. Ortiz didn't predict his shift-beating single, but he had a simple reason for why he ended the game.
``I don't like to play extra innings," Ortiz said.
Ortiz (4 for 5, four RBIs), who spanked his major league-best 35th homer, has four walkoff hits this season and 14 in his career.
``To have that guy on your team," said closer Jonathan Papelbon, ``and to be able to take those pressure situations off everybody else on the team, put it on his back, and take care of the ball club like he does is pretty amazing. He's going to be the guy that we're leaning on a lot. But he's the type of guy that accepts that role and enjoys it."
Earlier this year, Ortiz had struggled against the defensive formations teams were using, even altering his swing to try to solve the shift. But in conversations he's had with Francona and hitting coach Ron Jackson, Ortiz has been focusing on taking what pitchers -- not necessarily defenses -- give him.
A good-looking, 93-mile-per-hour fastball from Scot Shields? Let's lose it in the bleachers, like he did in the eighth when the Sox trailed, 6-3. A floater away from Romero? Go the other way, especially if the shortstop is nowhere nearby.
``I think when David stays through the ball, he hits home runs," Francona said. ``We don't want him to turn into a singles hitter. We want him to hit home runs."
Ortiz's winning hit, however, would never have happened if not for the following plays by his teammates:
A one-out double by Mike Lowell down the right-field line off closer Francisco Rodriguez that scored two runs in the eighth and made it a 6-6 game. The third baseman, with runners on second and third, saw a K-Rod fastball screaming toward his hands. Lowell fought off the pitch, floating it over first baseman Robb Quinlan. Most of his 37 doubles (best in the majors) have been to left field because of his preference to pull the ball.
``Good pitch, bad swing, good result," Lowell said. ``I'll take it."
The three-run rally wiped out a lead the Angels grabbed in the seventh when Curtis Pride, in his second at-bat since pinch hitting for Vladimir Guerrero (the DH, who struck out twice against Beckett, left in the fifth because of fatigue), cracked a two-run homer off Craig Hansen into the Sox' bullpen. It was Pride's first home run since July 6, 2003, and put rookie starter Jered Weaver (7-0, 1.51 ERA) on track to win his eighth straight outing.
A perfect one-hop throw from Manny Ramírez to Jason Varitek that prevented catcher Mike Napoli from scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th.
``He throws the straightest ball of any left fielder I've ever played with," Lowell said. ``He fielded it, threw home, and threw a strike. He's very underrated. He throws the ball pretty good."
Napoli, who was hit by a Julian Tavarez pitch to lead off the inning, advanced to second on Figgins's sacrifice bunt. Third baseman Maicer Izturis followed with a single to left and third base coach Dino Ebel waved Napoli home. But Ramírez, transferring the ball quickly from glove to hand, gunned him down with Varitek blocking the plate.
``I never thought that Manny was going to throw the guy out," Tavarez said. ``But you never know. It's Manny being Manny. I know he's got a good arm. It was a perfect throw. I don't think it was a strong throw, but it was right on the money. Everybody says, `Good job, Julian.' I say good job to Manny and Ortiz. Manny won the game by making that throw home and Ortiz got the base hit."
In the bottom of the ninth, Ramírez had a chance to win the game, but he grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. His throw made everybody forget about that.
An inning-ending strikeout by Tavarez (2-3, 5.17 ERA), the winning pitcher who bumbled through the 11th but walked off the field to a standing ovation instead of the hoots he heard when he plunked Napoli on a full count.
``The only thing I did was go to the mound and get my boos," Tavarez said. ``Boo. It kind of [stinks], huh? We're in first place and your fans are still booing. `You [stink]. Boo.' It's unbelievable. I got used to it. Every time I go on the field to pitch and for BP. It's OK. They pay for the tickets. They can say whatever they want to say."
After Ramírez's throw wiped out Napoli, Tavarez still had to deal with shortstop Orlando Cabrera with Izturis on second. On a 1-and-2 count, Tavarez threw a 90-m.p.h. sinking fastball that forced Cabrera (0 for 5, two strikeouts) to swing and miss, ending the inning and setting up Ortiz's heroics.
``He keeps coming through," Lowell said of Ortiz. ``He better not pop up. Ever."