Ortiz’s 10th HR of month helps lift Sox
As David Ortiz finished his discussion with the media yesterday, a few minutes of chatter on his way out the door before today’s day off, the slugger added a tag line that hasn’t been heard around the clubhouse in recent months (and can’t be reprinted here). He called out the suggestion to the reporters that surrounded him, accompanied by a giant grin, and headed off.
This was the old Ortiz, one rejuvenated at the plate and in the clubhouse.
As the home runs have piled up — he hit his 10th in May in yesterday’s 8-1 shellacking of the Royals — Ortiz’s personality has returned, his sparkle has emerged. He was asked after the game if he remembered the last time he had double-digit homers in a month. He didn’t, guessing that it had occurred last season.
When told it last happened in August of 2006, when he also went deep 10 times, Ortiz smiled. “Really?’’ he asked. It was clear he enjoyed the knowledge.
“Doing the same thing, seeing the ball and swinging,’’ said Ortiz, whose two-run shot in the fifth opened up a one-run game. “People start talking trash too early, man. That’s what I blame it on.’’
Ortiz is enjoying the run he’s on, as he proves that he is far from done. Over his eight-game hitting streak, Ortiz is 10 for 26 (.385) with three homers and 10 RBIs. He has seven home runs in his last 15 games, as his month ranks with some of the best in club history.
Overall in May Ortiz hit .363 with those 10 homers and 27 RBIs — the second time in his career he has had at least 10 homers, 25 RBIs, and hit .350 in a month. The last time he did it was in June of 2004. Before him, Nomar Garciaparra was the last Red Sox to accomplish the feat, in May of 1999.
“He looks dangerous,’’ outfielder Mike Cameron said. “That’s a good sign for the Boston Red Sox, when you have that type of hitter in that position considering that we do get a lot of guys on base.
“It makes it that much easier for our team to win. Even if they pitch around him and give him the base, now you have to face [Kevin Youkilis]. It makes it that much better.’’
Not that it was all Ortiz. In addition to Jon Lester gutting out seven innings without his best stuff, the Sox’ offense broke out, bolstered by the bottom of the order. Jason Varitek, Bill Hall, and Cameron combined to go 6 for 11 with a walk and a homer, scoring seven of the eight runs. Cameron drove in two, his first two RBIs as a member of the Sox.
The team got one in the third, on a sacrifice fly by Ortiz against starter Bruce Chen, to make it 1-1, then got a tiebreaking run in the fifth as Marco Scutaro drove in Hall on a ground out. That was followed by Ortiz’s blast, putting the Sox up by three. Three more came in the sixth, on a two-run double by Cameron and an RBI single by Scutaro, and the last came in the eighth on a solo shot by Varitek.
“If we can get the bottom of the lineup going like we did today, it takes a little pressure off the guys in the middle of the lineup,’’ Hall said. “We know those guys can’t win games for us every day, so if we can produce at the bottom of the lineup and score a lot of runs, it’s going to help this team win a lot more games.’’
They certainly helped take care of the Royals, as the Sox split a series with one of the weaker opponents in the American League. After Boston dropped the first two games of the series, Clay Buchholz and Lester each went seven innings to get a win.
Lester, despite allowing just one run on four hits and four walks, wasn’t at his best. But he has gotten to the point where he is able to manage a game, especially against a team like Kansas City, and especially when he’s getting run support.
“It’s not like he’s getting laced all over the field, he was just missing,’’ Varitek said. “He was able to really harness that in that [third] inning with the guy on third with less than two outs. From there, he was much better.’’
Lester gave up one run in the second, when Billy Butler walked, Alberto Callaspo doubled, and Brayan Pena hit an RBI grounder. In that third inning, Mitch Maier doubled and moved up on a ground out. After Mike Aviles walked, Lester got David DeJesus and Butler, both swinging. He was much better after that, setting down the next 10.
The Sox now have the best record in the American League since May 3 at 18-9. They have been even better over the past two weeks, winning or splitting their last five series, going 10-4. With a road trip full of wins over the best in baseball and a split against the Royals, the Sox have picked themselves up and put themselves back in contention. They are now just two games behind the Yankees, and just 5 1/2 games out of first place.
“We’ve strung some games together,’’ Lester said. “I think we’re getting that swagger back, getting that confidence.
“You can definitely tell on the field how guys feel. It’s good. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s a long season still, we’ve got a long way to go, but we just keep clawing away, playing good baseball, and good things will happen.’’
Add in the contributions of their new No. 3 hitter — Ortiz — and the Sox have found a formula that works. Still, even with the returns from May having been entered into the books, Ortiz doesn’t want to end his run at the end of the month. Asked if this was particularly gratifying given all he’s been through, Ortiz said, “[Expletive], yeah.’’
“He’s gotten to a point where he feels really good about himself,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “You can see it in his body language, his energy, everything. He feels good.
“He goes up to the plate, they make a mistake, he hits it a long way. Sometimes when they don’t make a mistake, he’ll shoot it to the left or fight it off. But he’s a very dangerous and very productive hitter.’’
Said Ortiz, “I feel good. It’s not over yet.’’