Strength in numbers for slugger recently
On a night when the winds swirled, the July weather playing October, Scott Hairston’s mashed ball found its way into the glove of Jacoby Ellsbury in center field on what very easily could have been a damaging ninth-inning hit - in other conditions.
Hairston crushed that pitch. That was why, three innings earlier, it was such a feat of strength, of power, of David Ortiz’s swing being right, when he crushed a three-run homer to right field, where the bleachers meet the boxes.
J.D. Drew earlier had pounced on a ball in that inning, his leadoff homer going only so far as the Oakland bullpen. But Ortiz did him one better, in his blast’s distance, and his swing, and the meaning of the hit. Ortiz’s homer, with Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis aboard, pushed the Sox from a 1-1 tie to a 4-1 lead in a game that eventually would go to the Sox, 5-4.
Asked where the ball might have landed had the wind not been at a healthy 15 miles per hour from the east-northeast at the game’s start, he had to smile.
“I don’t know. But not by Ted Williams’s seat,’’ Ortiz joked, invoking a good-natured expletive.
He added a fourth RBI with a groundout to second base in the seventh that brought home Drew with the eventual winning run. But, while clearly meaningful, that swing and the result weren’t quite as pretty as his earlier work.
“He hit that ball . . . that’s as good as he’s hit a ball,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “The wind was pretty strong. You could see some of those popups were playing tricks on people.’’
The ball Ortiz hit, though, was not even close to a popup. It was his 10th home run of the season, the 299th of his career, putting him on the precipice of becoming the 19th active player to reach 300. It was the ninth time he has homered in his last 28 games, a pace that seems remarkably Ortiz-like, even with his troubles at the start of the season.
Was it his best swing of the year? Ortiz wasn’t quite convinced.
“[Heck] no,’’ he said. “[Francona’s] lying. That was a good one. I mean, every time you hit a ball out, I think it’s a good swing, no matter what. It’s not how far you hit it, it’s what situation and what occasion you hit it. I think, like I said before, I’m feeling good and happy to be helping with this ball club like I’ve been doing for years. Look forward to keeping going.’’
His four RBIs were a season high, the most he’s had in a game since Sept. 15, 2008. He’s also tied with Rico Petrocelli with 773 RBIs, good for eighth place in Sox history.
“For him to weather the storm for two months, and then come back and do what he’s doing now is incredible,’’ shortstop Nick Green said.
Or, as Sox starter Tim Wakefield put it, “Awesome. You know, we all in the clubhouse have had so much confidence in him even though he was struggling in the first month or two. He’s a presence at the plate and we need his bat in that lineup every night. He’s the man, that’s for sure.’’
While his average remains a disappointing .223, that’s far better than the .186 he was batting at the start of June. Over his last 27 games and 24 starts, Ortiz is hitting a robust .301 with a 1.037 on-base plus slugging, 14 walks (and 18 strikeouts), eight home runs, and 17 RBIs.
The numbers are more familiar. The feeling is more familiar. And though Ortiz said, “Things happen. You mentally stress out sometimes. Sometimes you get a good release. That’s how life goes,’’ he is obviously upbeat these days.
“I feel good. I feel good,’’ Ortiz said. “I’m just taking my time, trying not to do too much. And, slowly, trying to help this ball club.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.