10/08/2003 4:22 AM ET
Sluggers are slugging again
Sosa, Ramirez, Ortiz break silence at the plate
Manny's HR: 56K | 300K
Sosa's HR: 56K | 300K
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the only action superhero who has just experienced a major breakthrough. David Ortiz had one Sunday for Boston. Teammate Manny Ramirez had one Monday. And Sammy Sosa became the latest Tuesday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
Postseason sluggers are slugging again, and all is right with the world.
In the last three days, those three marquee power hitters have broken profound silence at the plate, and just in time for their teams. Ortiz (0-for-16) and Ramirez (4-for-20) kept the Boston Red Sox alive with game-winners in back-to-back contests, and now those two stars enter tonight's American League Championship Series against the Yankees without attached pressure.
Sosa ended a 3-for-20 skid by blasting his first postseason homer to force extra innings against Florida, perhaps the most important development for the Cubs in their 9-8 loss.
Sosa had been 0-for-4 in the opener, and the recent talk was only intensifying. With two out and Kenny Lofton on base in the bottom of the ninth, Cubs trailing, 8-6, Sosa swung at a 1-1 inside fastball from Ugueth Urbina. Never mind that Sosa had been 1-for-11 lifetime against the Marlins' closer, and never mind about all of those questions he has been answering lately about his slump. Sammy slammed it over the screen in left and onto Waveland Avenue's teeming mass of ball piranhas.
"I've been hitting the ball very good. In the series with Atlanta, I was hitting the ball very well. They haven't been dropping, they've been hit right to somebody. I've been getting a lot of good wood, very, very hard. People don't realize that. They only see the things that they want to see. But I've been swinging the bat really good. I've been on top of everything, on top of my game."
Ramirez is there again as well, after coming through with the crucial three-run homer off Barry Zito that ultimately stood up in the dramatic thriller that finished off Oakland. Those three RBIs were also his first three of that series. He dropped his bat as soon as he made contact, and then looked toward the Boston dugout as he moved ever-so-slowly toward first base. Ramirez pointed at Ino Guerrero, his confidant and spiritual adviser, who was applauding in the dugout.
"I told Ino (that Zito) was going to make a mistake, and I was going to be waiting," Ramirez said. "I know I had not been swinging the bat pretty good. I have a lot of confidence in myself. All the time at bat I was looking in, and (Zito) gave me the fastball, and I drove it to left field."
No one was happier than Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who reportedly saw Ramirez in the hallway as he approached the Sox clubhouse and bear-hugged him.
"Just in time," Lucchino told him. "Just in time."
"Yeah, you got it," Ramirez replied.
Ramirez said he did not let the slump get to him. "What I'm trying to think is just relax and stay calm and let it happen," he said. "I'm not trying to put any pressure on myself in that situation."
Entering that Game 4 in Boston on Saturday, Ramirez and Ortiz were a problematic combination for the Red Sox. But it was Ortiz who waited until just the right time to deliver his first hit of these playoffs, a two-run double in Boston's final at-bat that brought the Red Sox back from the brink of elimination.
"David was holding his head down quite a bit, but we were telling him he has a great shot of being MVP," Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon said after that game. "Zero-for-16 doesn't make or break a year, but that one hit you got certainly does."
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. Matthew Leach, a reporter for MLB.com, contributed to this story, which was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.