Last March and April, Ortiz hit .230 and was unable to manage even a single home run, while striking out 22 times in 87 at-bats. During the past month, he went just 8-for-56 (.143 average) with one homer and 21 strikeouts.
The 34-year-old designated hitter is no longer a stranger to slow starts, but that doesn’t make them any easier to swallow. With the Red Sox scuffling to an 11-12 mark as a team, Ortiz knew himself – and heard from thousands of members of Red Sox Nation – that he needed to step things up.
Broadcaster Don Orsillo mentioned during Saturday’s NESN telecast that Ortiz took extra batting practice with hitting coach Dave Magadan before the game and sprayed balls all over the field, perhaps foreshadowing a vintage Big Papi-type performance.
And even though the Red Sox suffered yet another disappointing loss to the Orioles, the fans at Camden Yards watched Big Papi come back to life.
In the second inning, with the Red Sox behind 1-0, Ortiz smacked a 90-mph, two-seam fastball from Brad Bergesen just over the wall in right-center field to tie the score at one. The 1-0 offering was one of many challenge fastballs that Ortiz has seen throughout his slump, but unlike most of the others, he mustered the bat speed necessary to drive this one out of the park.
After flying out to left field in his second at-bat and fanning in his third, Ortiz came up with his team trailing 12-8 in the eighth inning. The Red Sox had just scored four runs in the seventh, only to watch the Orioles counter with one of their own in the bottom half of the inning. They needed something to show that they were still ready to fight, and David Ortiz provided that.
Facing Alberto Castillo, a left-hander with good velocity who entered the game with a 2.08 ERA in four appearances, Ortiz jumped on a first-pitch fastball and crushed it far beyond the fence in right-center for his third long ball of the season.
Of Ortiz’s last 29 homers — including 28 last year and one this year — only six had come against southpaws, making his second blast on Saturday even more significant.
Two Orioles pitchers challenged Ortiz with fastballs early in the count, and both times, he made them pay. If he’s able to build off Saturday’s effort, it won’t just be good news for Big Papi, but also great news for the batters in front of him, who may see better pitches to hit in the future.
In Friday’s series opener, the Red Sox got a solid start from John Lackey, but could not come up with enough clutch hits to fight off the Orioles. On Saturday, the offense did more than its fair share by plating nine runs, but Daisuke Matsuzaka and the bullpen let each lead the hitters compiled slip away, eventually falling 12-9.
As the Red Sox look to avoid getting swept by Baltimore for the first time since 1998, the key will be success in all phases of the game — something they’ve struggled to accomplish throughout the first 24 games. Josh Beckett will take the mound hoping to rebound from two consecutive poor outings and improve on his 6-2 career record in 12 starts versus Baltimore. David Ortiz and the offense will need to find a way to stay hot against Kevin Millwood, who beat Boston twice and allowed only three earned runs in 18 2/3 innings last season.
The Red Sox have shown over the past two games that they have all the pieces necessary to win. Now that the calendar has rolled into May, the key will be putting them together for good.
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