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Papi makes history

Posted by Gordon Edes, Globe Staff  September 21, 2006 10:54 PM

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Do mythical creatures exist? David Ortiz pondered as much this afternoon as he sat in front of a laptop in the Red Sox clubhouse, reading an e-mail from a friend who had attached a photo taken in Boca Chica, a seaside village in his native Dominican Republic.

‘‘Look,’’ he said, pointing to what appeared to be a female form, her face covered by a white shroud, washed up onto a beach, except that there was a fishtail where there should have been legs. ‘‘A mermaid. Is it real? I don’t know. It was all over the news in the Dominican.’’

Can you believe your own eyes? That was a question more easily answered for those present tonight at Fenway Park when Ortiz in his first at-bat did some mythmaking of his own, hitting his 51st home run of the season, breaking the club record set in 1938 by Jimmie Foxx, a Hall of Famer. Ortiz would add his own coda to this historic night by hitting another home run, No. 52, in his last at-bat during a 6-0 Boston victory over the Minnesota Twins before a crowd of 36,434.

Ortiz swung his 33-ounce bat -- the same bat carved of white ash and laminated black that he’d used last night to hit No. 50 -- at the first pitch he saw from Twins lefthander Johan Santana, with two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the first inning. The pitch from Santana, a stylish Venezuelan widely considered the best pitcher in the American League, was a belt-high fastball that did not veer inside enough to interrupt the full violent twist of Ortiz’s hips and the upward sweep of his bat.

At the sound of bat meeting ball, and the sight of the ball soaring high into the cool autumn-like night, Ortiz’s teammates rushed to the railing of the dugout, and the crowd rose as one, exploding with joy when the ball cleared the Sox bullpen and landed a few rows beyond.

With that swing, Ortiz, the son of a humble man, Enrique Ortiz, who sold auto parts in Santo Domingo, etched his name in the Red Sox record book, replacing that of Foxx, the son of Dell and Mattie Foxx, tenant farmers in Sudlersville, Md. Big Papi, trumping Double X, whose record had stood the test of other sluggers, from Ted Williams to Yaz, Jim Rice to Mo Vaughn, for 68 years.

The sounds of ‘‘The Natural’’ played over the ballpark PA system as Ortiz circled the bases, and ‘‘51’’ flashed repeatedly on the video scoreboard. In the pressbox, Terry Ryan, the Twins general manager who had elected not to offer Ortiz a contract four years earlier, which allowed him to sign with the Red Sox as a projected platoon player, watched, expressionless.

Santana, standing on the grass near the mound, removed his cap in an apparent gesture of respect. Six times previously, Santana had faced Ortiz, and six times he’d gotten him out, striking him out three times.

The seventh time, history.

As Ortiz crossed the plate, he performed the ritual that follows each of his home runs, gently kissing the tips of his fingers and pointing to the sky, in tribute to his beloved mother, Angela Rosa Arias, who died in a car accident four years ago and whose visage is etched on Ortiz’s giant biceps.

He was embraced by the Sox’s on-deck hitter, Mike Lowell, then returned to the dugout, where one by one, led by manager Terry Francona, teammates engulfed him with hugs and backslaps.

In the center-field bleachers, meanwhile, a 29-year-old man from Waltham, Joel McGrath, emerged from a tangled scrum of arms and legs with the ball. Sox security personnel escorted McGrath to the Sox clubhouse, where he gave the ball back to Ortiz, who pledged to auction the ball off for charity, which is how he intended to dispose of the ball he’d hit for No. 50.

The deference the Sox accorded Ortiz for his record-breaker was replaced by some traditional baseball mischief when he hit No. 52, a towering drive into the left-center-field seats off 27-year-old right-handed reliever, Matt Guerrier, with one out in the seventh. Ortiz returned to a dugout that collectively ignored him for several moments before abandoning the silent treatment and pounding him anew with congratulations.

The game? Maybe a footnote for the Red Sox, but a matter of considerable urgency for the Twins, who took the field knowing that the Detroit Tigers had lost this afternoon, giving them a chance, with a victory last night, to vault ahead of the Tigers into first place in the American League Central.

With Santana on the mound, the odds were tipped ridiculously in their favor. Since the 2003 season, Santana had a record of 39-3 in starts made after the All-Star break, including a 9-0 record this season (with four no-decisions).

But after allowing singles to Carlos Peña and Gabe Kapler to open the second, Santana made a costly throwing error while fielding Alex Gonzalez’s sacrifice bunt, allowing both runners to score and Gonzalez to sprint to third, from where he scored on Mark Loretta’s sacrifice fly.

Santana allowed no more scoring, but he was dismissed after throwing 100 pitches through five innings, matching his shortest outing of the season. When Lowell followed Ortiz’s 52d home run by lining Guerrier’s next pitch into the Monster seats, the Sox led, 6-0, Sox starter Josh Beckett having held the Twins scoreless on five hits to that point.

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