10/08/2003 10:05 PM ET
Another clutch blow for Ortiz
Big DH is Boston's main Yankees killer
Ortiz's homer: 56K | 300K
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- David Ortiz slugged his way into the American League MVP picture by coming up with a series of clutch hits down the stretch.
In fact, he provided one of the most memorable moments of the regular season for the Red Sox, leading off the bottom of the 10th inning Sept. 23 against the Orioles at Fenway Park with a walk-off homer that clinched at least tie for the Wild Card berth. His jubilant side-stepping hop into the waiting mob at home plate is depicted on the cover of Boston's postseason media guide.
And now, after a painfully slow start to the postseason, the hulking designated hitter appears to be back on a dramatic track.
Turning on a full-count pitch from Mike Mussina in the top of the fourth inning Wednesday in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Ortiz slammed a two-run homer into upper deck in right field at Yankee Stadium to give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead on the way to a 5-2 victory.
Ortiz, who hit 31 homers and drove in 101 runs during the regular season, was 0-for-21 lifetime against Mussina before the at-bat. And he was well aware of the zero in that equation.
"Yeah, I knew. I won't forget about that," he said. "Everything that guy throws is nasty."
"He's a better hitter than he was," Mussina said. "I gave him some pitches to get to, and he got to them. I'm not going to go 10 years and a guy's not going to get any hits. It's not going to last forever."
Mussina seemed to be the only Yankees pitcher that Ortiz didn't own this season. All told, he hit .327 (18-for-55) against New York, with five walks, three doubles, a triple, six homers, 14 RBIs and a gaudy .745 slugging percentage in the regular season.
Four of those homers came at Yankee Stadium, but Ortiz didn't have much of an explanation for his success in the Bronx.
"I don't know, guys. I just try to see the ball and hit it," he said. "These guys have tough pitchers every night, so you're just trying to stay alive."
The shot Wednesday night against the Yankees was the second clutch slump-buster in three games for Ortiz, who went hitless in the first three games of the AL Division Series against Oakland. He snapped an 0-for-16 slide with a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 4 to give the Red Sox a 5-4 victory that saved their season.
"He just always seems to be in the right place at the right time," said teammate Gabe Kapler. "He's the guy who always seems to come up in that big situation, and he always seems to come through."
Ortiz is still only 3-for-24 (.125) in the playoffs, but the Red Sox don't seem to have any doubt that he'll continue to provide big hits. He's been doing it on a regular basis since signing with Boston as a free agent after the Twins made no effort to re-sign him in the offseason.
At $1.25 million, he's been one of the biggest bargains in baseball.
"I think he's been one of the best hitters in baseball," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "Once the season starts, we don't think about contracts. We think about what's between the white lines, and David's been one of our best."
Ortiz probably won't be such a bargain next year, be it in Boston or elsewhere. Signed only through the end of this season, he's in his prime (he turns 28 in November), eligible for arbitration and coming off a huge year.
Not that he's thinking about leaving Beantown any time soon. A gentle giant -- he's listed at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, but he's probably an inch shorter and more than a few bowls of New England clam chowder heavier -- from the Dominican Republic who's popular with teammates, fans and the media, Ortiz acts and sounds like someone having the time of his life.
"Boston is the only team that called me [in the offseason], and I appreciate that," he said. "I'm just real happy with the way everything's worked out."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.