CHICAGO - It would have been the perfect homage to Manny Ramírez, as David Ortiz took his time at home plate, watching his epic drive soar out . . . out . . . but off the base of the wall in left-center field. Though Ortiz's drive wasn't a home run, as he clearly thought while he watched it, it wasn't as if there were any hard feelings on his delayed trot into second base for a double.
For one thing, the bases were loaded, with Ortiz's three RBIs putting the Red Sox up by four runs over the White Sox. For another, it's David Ortiz, a man who can uplift anyone - even an entire team - with a swing of his bat. Swings that haven't been coming with regularity lately.
So, was there any question in his mind that he had finally hit his 15th home run of the season, and just his second since coming off the disabled list July 25?
"Oh, yeah. Papi knows when the ball is gone," Ortiz said. "I guess Mother Nature doesn't want me to hit it out tonight."
So, while Daisuke Matsuzaka was stifling the White Sox, the Red Sox were trying to turn a windy, rain-speckled night (the tarp made an appearance before game time) into an opportunity to stem their fall in the division, a deficit that reached 3 1/2 games before last night. That was the biggest spread in a month, since the Red Sox were four games back July 7, but it would not get larger last night, the Red Sox winning, 6-2, in front of 39,243 at U.S. Cellular Field.
And it wasn't bad that Ortiz provided a moment of levity for his teammates.
"The double was hilarious, when he thought it was gone," Dustin Pedroia said. "But you've got to be a strong man to leave this place to left field."
Perhaps that was why Jacoby Ellsbury chose right field for his eighth-inning solo shot, capping a three-hit night with his second homer in as many games. With Mother Nature not nearly as unfriendly to him, Ellsbury joined Ortiz and Mike Lowell as Red Sox who might be emerging from slumps.
Ellsbury turned in his third straight multihit game, while Lowell ended an 0-for-17 skid with two singles.
"Some days you get frustrated," Ortiz said of his troubles at the plate. "At the same time, I think about, you know, I missed two months of the season. I'm still not 100 percent, so I don't want to be too crazy and try to do things that make things get worse."
But last night's game wasn't only about offense. Defense and pitching helped the Red Sox, too.
Matsuzaka (13-2) submitted the type of performance one has come to expect. He went eight innings, allowing just four hits and one run, but kept his fielders busy, and himself in tense situations, with all three of his walks leading off innings. However, he got four double plays, each ending an inning, and three courtesy of A.J. Pierzynski.
"Seemed like for a guy that gave up four hits, it seemed like he had to pitch out of some jams," said manager Terry Francona. "[Four] double-play balls, though, he made some real good pitches."
It was a bit messy, true. But anything close to that would have been palatable to Jose Contreras. For his troubles, and his activation from the disabled list yesterday, all he got was a trip back on.
The throw from first baseman Nick Swisher came at Contreras as he was steps away from first base, having broken late. But he couldn't hang on, the ball hitting off his glove and into foul territory, as Contreras flew by the bag and fell to the ground. Once there, the pitcher rolled in agony, grabbing at his left ankle. He had ruptured his Achilles' tendon, an injury that will end his season, and could end his career. When Gabe Kapler - about as finely conditioned an athlete as there is - ruptured his Achilles' while with the Red Sox in 2005, it took him nine months to return to the field, and that was well ahead of schedule.
"I didn't realize at the time, I actually thought he had a cramp," Francona said of Contreras. "You don't want to see that. To anybody."
The White Sox were thus forced to dip into their bullpen, bringing in D.J. Carrasco for 4 1/3 innings, during which he allowed just one run to keep Chicago in the game, even with just 1 2/3 innings from its starter. But Carrasco exited after the sixth inning, and that was when the Red Sox got a taste of Boone Logan, who allowed four runs, including the three driven home by Ortiz, and recorded no outs.
And there was yet another sign that Ortiz may be rounding into form. After he lined a single to center field for his second hit, in the sixth inning, he went from first base to third on Lowell's single, a big play at that point. That isn't exactly a common occurrence for Ortiz, even when there aren't questions about his knee. It was perfect timing, though, Ortiz then scoring on a ground out by Jason Bay.
"[I've] been watching Jacoby and Coco [Crisp] doing it," Ortiz said, laughing. "Why not?"
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.