David Ortiz acted surprised to hear that Alex Rodriguez had an opt-out clause that would allow him to void the final three years of his contract.
"I don't think he will," said Ortiz, while recalling the days -- not so long ago -- when the Red Sox were engaged in what proved to be a fruitless quest to swap A-Rod for Manny Ramírez.
"He told me in the Dominican he wanted to come," said Ortiz, who remains unconvinced the Sox did everything in their power to add Rodriguez before the Yankees swooped in.
"They were only a couple of million dollars a year apart," Ortiz said on the eve of a series in which the Sox have beaten the Yankees two successive days, including yesterday by a 7-5 score. "How hard did they try?"
While A-Rod kept alive his streak of hitting in each of the Yankees' first 16 games, with a double and RBI single, the big blasts yesterday afternoon came courtesy of Big Papi.
Ortiz's two-run first-inning double and two-run fourth-inning home run (his sixth of the season and fourth in seven games) were the centerpieces of a Sox surge against rookie Jeff Karstens (seven runs in 4 1/3 innings) that allowed Josh Beckett to recover from an unsteady start and go 6 2/3 innings for his fourth win without a loss in 2007.
"Shakespeare," said second baseman Alex Cora, whose two bunts -- one a back-to-back number with Coco Crisp, the other a sacrifice after a Crisp single and stolen base -- were uncommon but critical components of the Sox' offense yesterday.
"He hits home runs, he writes books," Cora said of Ortiz, the team's newly lettered author, who collaborated with Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald on an autobiography, and was headed to a book party at the Four Seasons last night.
"I don't have it yet, but I'll get it," said first baseman Kevin Youkilis, whose double in the first and single in the second figured in two Sox rallies. "I'll have to get him to autograph it, keep it in the house."
Rodriguez was left in the on-deck circle by Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who issued a one-out walk to Melky Cabrera, then struck out Derek Jeter on a 97-mile-per-hour fastball and retired Bobby Abreu on a liner to center to end the game before a sellout throng of 36,342 in Fenway Park.
Papelbon remains perfect in April save opportunities -- five this season, 10 last April, when he launched his career as a closer supreme.
Hideki Okajima, who did a marvelous job as Papelbon's stand-in to save Friday night's 7-6 comeback win, was summoned for some more rescue work yesterday and came through, this time with his wife, Yuka Kurihara, in the house, making a guest appearance on Fuji TV during the game. Okajima struck out Jason Giambi to quell a Yankee uprising in which one run already had scored and the tying runs were on base.
"Biggest at-bat of the game," Sox manager Terry Francona said.
How much of a revelation has Okajima -- who is unscored upon in his last eight appearances since giving up a home run to Kansas City's John Buck on his first pitch as a big leaguer -- been to the Sox?
"I remember hearing stories of Ichiro setting people up in spring training when he first started," Cora said, referring to Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki, a batting champion his first season in Seattle. "I don't want to say that [about Okajima], but it seems like it.
"That first-pitch fastball he threw to John Buck, maybe that was a wake-up call, because he's been great."
After both teams put up deuces in each of the first two innings, Ortiz's home run deep into the right-field stands made it 7-4, two batters after Crisp had scored on a ground out, and placed the undermanned Yankees -- center fielder Johnny Damon and catcher Jorge Posada were missing from the starting lineup -- in the position of having to win behind rookie Chase Wright tonight to avoid a sweep.
The Bombers also will be getting their first look at Daisuke Matsuzaka.
"It's the Yankees against the Red Sox," Yankees manager Joe Torre said when asked how much that mattered. "We don't sit up at night concerned about or anticipating, whatever, who is pitching against us. This is baseball. This game that you have to play every day. We are anxious to see our youngster pitch tomorrow."
Beckett, whose last appearance here against the Yankees was the unsightliest of his career -- nine runs on seven hits and nine walks in 5 2/3 innings during the Bombers' season-turning five-game sweep in the Fens last August -- was touched for a couple of runs in the first on three singles and a walk, and a pair in the second, a throwing error by third baseman Mike Lowell fueling the inning.
"I think he threw 60 pitches in the first three innings," Francona said. "I told John [Farrell, pitching coach], one more long inning, and he'll be out after five. But he had an eight-pitch fourth, an eight-pitch fifth, and got it done.'
Beckett thrashed about a bit in the Sox' dugout after he was lifted in the seventh after a two-out Yankees rally -- Jeter singled, Abreu walked, and Rodriguez lined an RBI single to right. Jeter has hit in 12 games in a row; A-Rod's 31 RBIs match his career high for any month (August 2003, with Texas) and he still has eight games scheduled, four against the Sox, in which to better that mark.
"I get so frustrated with myself," Beckett said. "Sometimes maybe I expect myself to be perfect and I know I wasn't perfect in making that pitch to Alex."
Beckett's mood lightened considerably after Okajima set down Giambi, then retired Robinson Cano on a grounder to start the eighth. Mike Timlin got the last two outs of the eighth.
"We're getting wins," Youkilis said. "I don't think we've played great. This team is definitely capable of playing better. We were talking about that, a couple of the guys. We haven't played that well, altogether. Wins are wins, it doesn't matter how you get 'em, but I think we can do better.
"I mean, Manny Ramírez hasn't even started hitting. He's hitting what, .180 or something [.193, after a 1 for 4 yesterday]? By the end of the year, he'll be at .300. We all know it. It's no big surprise. One of our best hitters isn't hitting yet. We're actually looking pretty good right now."
Jason Varitek had two more hits yesterday, giving him five for the series and improving his average to .267, while Crisp bunted his way on in the second and scored, singled and scored in the fourth, and has brought a level of energy -- teammates were still raving about his header into the bullpen Friday trying to snag A-Rod's homer -- the Sox haven't seen since he was hurt last April.
"You play the game," Cora said of yesterday's bunts. "You've got to be aggressive. Sometimes you think too much and don't do your thing, don't take chances. You've got to play the way you know how to play the game."
Shakespeare might have used more words, but he couldn't have said it any better.
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.