David Ortiz proving ageless as he leads Sox to a 2-0 ALDS lead
BOSTON -- The final question asked of David Ortiz never stood a chance, clubbed away on its approach as emphatically as the two David Price pitches that the Red Sox' venerable slugger had deposited beyond the right field wall.
"David, you're turning 38 next month," the questioner began, "how old do you feel . . ."
The thought was interrupted before the punctuation, not unlike Price's first-inning cutter that hadn't finished cutting when Ortiz's black Marucci bat connected with the baseball out in front of the plate, redirecting its flight path from where it was thrown (the middle of the plate) to where he decided it should land (the home bullpen).
"Next question," Ortiz said. "You think I want to know that? It feels good. I feel good, man."
At that point, Ortiz was ready to exit the media scrum that had engulfed the protagonist as Boston's 7-4 win gave it a 2-0 ALDS lead over the Rays. He asked, "What else?" on his way out and, when nothing was immediately shouted at him, he declared, "All right, party time."
As Ortiz walked away, however, something about the question lingered in his mind, and after a joking expletive, he shouted across the room, "I swing like I'm 20."
At the very least, he's clubbing baseballs like he's 28, his age back in 2004, when he claimed October as his signature month thanks to five well-timed playoff home runs that propelled Boston onward to its first world championship in 86 years. He reprised his role to a lesser extent three years later with three more home runs to help the Sox win another title.
Age is an unforgiving combatant, but there are ways to slow ability's attrition. Chief among them is preparation, through tireless rounds of batting practice and study of opposing pitchers. That work ethic seems to be a big reason why Ortiz, six weeks away from birthday No. 38, had another monster season, with 30 home runs and a .959 OPS in 600 plate appearances and then became the third-oldest player with a multi-homer postseason game.
"No matter how good the guy is on the mound, David is just going to have a big league at bat," Red Sox right-hander Jake Peavy said. "He's so well prepared. I don't know if people understand how well he has got his [work] down."
Hitting coach Greg Colbrunn echoed that sentiment, raving that Ortiz "takes his hitting serious" and "does his daily preparation religiously." Colbrunn noted how meticulous Ortiz is in his B.P., repeating the same approach with a heavy emphasis on line drives to left-center; liners to the opposite-field gap require real technical proficiency.
Ortiz is again the anchor of a Boston offense with World Series potential, the lineup's one truly feared hitter, which a major league-leading 27 intentional walks affirms.
When reliever Craig Breslow was asked how he, as a left-handed pitcher, would attack Ortiz, he extended his right hand wiggled four fingers, the universal call for an intentional walk.
"He's such a good hitter on top of being such a slugger," said Breslow, who allowed two doubles and a homer to Ortiz in seven meetings before joining the Red Sox. "I think that's often under-appreciated as you look at a guy who's 6'4" and hits 30 home runs a year. You think, he's probably got some holes or doesn't make adjustments pitch-to-pitch, but he's such a smart hitter also that he doesn't have a glaring weakness. You can't throw the same pitch to him twice."
Ortiz's Game 2 double feature lacked the late-inning drama of his classic homers from '04 -- this time, Ortiz's blasts came in the first inning and then in the eighth with Boston already holding a two-run lead -- but in some respects, this day was even more impressive: it was his first multi-homer postseason game and came against a left-handed Cy Young winner who had allowed only two home runs to left-handed batters in 164 tries this season and against whom Ortiz had never homered in 37 previous at bats.
"David has a good idea all the time, how he's going to be pitched and what to look for in certain situations," Colbrunn said. "He's always had very comfortable at bats against Price [as] we've seen so far this year. He happened to put some good swings on the ball today."
Whereas Ortiz's first home run came on a mistake pitch, the second had a considerable degree of difficulty, as Price threw a fastball on the black of the plate's inner corner, which Ortiz powered down the line, inside of and well past Pesky's Pole. (Rest assured that the late namesake of the foul pole never hit one that far.)
Ortiz said he saw Price in Fenway Park's shared weight room earlier this week and congratulated him on his complete game at Texas on Monday. "I watched the whole game that he pitched in Texas," Ortiz said. "This guy is special."
But that also meant he was prepared for tonight's matchup and took advantage of a weakness.
"The one thing I noticed about him, his fastball wasn't like it used to be," Ortiz said. "He pitched four, five days ago, a complete game. A complete game late in the season will catch up with you a little bit. He wasn't 96, 98 like he used to be. It wasn't a bad fastball but it wasn't like you normally expect."
The two-homer game adds to Ortiz's long register of postseason successes, and if he's swinging like he's 20, he'll have time to add a few more.