BALTIMORE -- MVP?
On this night, that would stand for a mightily, vociferously peeved David Ortiz, distressed at the way his remarks about the American League MVP race were used to portray him as selfishly campaigning for himself while disparaging Derek Jeter of the Yankees.
Ortiz grabbed a copy of the USA Today sports section in the visitors' clubhouse before last night's 6-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles and pointed to a photo of himself. According to the caption, Ortiz said he deserved to be MVP.
``What is this [expletive]?" he said. ``That's not me, bro. That's not what I'm about. This makes me look stupid."
He'd heard about the uproar his comments caused in New York, where the back page of the tabloid New York Post featured a headline that read, ``Papi Disses Derek."
Ortiz shook his head.
``I try to be cool with everybody," he said. ``All the media. I don't want to be like Manny."
Oddly enough, Manny Ramírez, who has spent the balance of this season looking through reporters, weighed in on this controversy, though in typically inscrutable fashion.
Standing near a group of reporters, Ramírez, unprompted, made eye contact with one and said, ``I'm gonna be the MVP, but I've got to play."
Whatever that meant.
In any event, Ortiz felt sufficiently agitated to assent to Jerry Remy's request to appear on NESN's pregame show to address the comments he'd made after Sunday's game in Boston, in which he alluded to voters' bias against designated hitters, then said of Jeter, ``But they'll vote for a position player, use that as an excuse. They're talking about Jeter a lot, right? He's done a great job, he's having a great season, but Jeter is not a 40-homer hitter or an RBI guy. It doesn't matter how much you've done for your ball club, the bottom line is, the guy who hits 40 home runs and knocks in 100, that's the guy you know helped your team win games.
``Don't get me wrong -- he's a great player, having a great season, but he's got a lot of guys in that lineup. Top to bottom, you've got a guy who can hurt you. Come hit in this lineup, see how good you can be."
Those comments were run by Jeter here Monday night, and the Yankees' shortstop responded by saying, ``I'm not thinking about the MVP. No one's focus here is individual awards. We've still got something to play for this season."
That could be construed as a veiled shot at Ortiz, but if it registered, Big Papi did not bite. Instead, he tried to calm the roiling waters.
``Hopefully people will realize that's not my personality," Ortiz said to Remy, ``that's not my style.
``Derek knows me. We've talked before. He's got my man, Johnny Damon, next to him and he's got Alex [Rodriguez], who I have a good relationship with.
``That's not my style. I just play and be cool with everybody. Derek Jeter is one of my favorite players to watch. Why would I make a comment about Derek Jeter winning or not winning? That's something I can't control.
``I love watching Derek Jeter play. I'm one of his biggest fans. He plays the game, he leaves everything on the field. I don't think there's a player that can say anything about Derek Jeter."
In point of fact, Ortiz did say, as he acknowledged yesterday, that he felt the sluggers who hit 40 home runs and drive in lots of runs should get preference in the MVP voting, and did reference Rodriguez winning the MVP while playing for a last-place team in 2002.
Whether the controversy distracted Ortiz from the task at hand is unknown, but he grounded into a double play in his first at-bat last night before thrice flying out harmlessly to left, sandwiching in a fifth-inning walk. After the third fly out, in the eighth inning, Ortiz flung his helmet back to the dugout.
The Sox appeared to have broken open the game with three runs in both the sixth and seventh innings, but the Orioles scored four in the ninth off Mike Timlin to make it a nail-biter. Javier Lopez got the final out with men on first and third.
Sox starter Kason Gabbard had to leave with two outs in the fifth because he aggravated a sore side muscle, a condition he told manager Terry Francona he had in the minors. Craig Hansen was touched for an unearned run in the sixth, an unusual error charged to shortstop Alex Cora for missing an attempted tag on a base runner.
The Sox appeared to have the game well in hand until the bottom of the ninth, when Timlin gave up two singles and a three-run home run to Ramon Hernandez -- the sixth homer he has allowed in his last 22 appearances. Timlin then gave up three more singles and another run before Francona lifted him after a yield of six hits to eight batters.
Lopez, the seventh Sox pitcher of the night, retired Brian Roberts on an infield bouncer to end a game that was played in front of acres of empty seats -- a rare sight when the Sox are in town -- in a tidy 3 hours 51 minutes.
``I didn't want to take him out," Francona said of Timlin, who was 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA in 21 appearances before going on the DL, 3-5 with a 6.16 ERA since he was activated June 13. Last night's barrage raised opponents' batting average against Timlin to .331 (52 for 157) since his return.
``Tough for him, tough to watch," said Francona.
With closer Jonathan Papelbon shut down with a shoulder that slipped slightly out of joint, Francona has little choice but to stick with Timlin in late-inning situations.
``Hard for us to win games without using Mike," he said.
``I didn't throw the ball real well tonight," said Timlin. ``I hit my spots about 30 percent of the time. The ball was up. When I did get the ball down, they still got hits. I threw a good pitch to [Melvin] Mora [who singled to lead off the ninth], and to Hernandez, a three-run dinger.
``I just pitched real bad. No other way to say it."