A Yankee Fan at Fenway, Part II

In 2003, Pedro Martinez allowed just two extra-base hits off 0-and-2 counts prior to Game 7 of the ALCS. But when Hideki Matsui doubled off Martinez on 0-and-2 in the famous eighth-inning comeback, he became the second hitter in three at-bats to hit an extra-base hit off Martinez with Derek Jeter having doubled on 0-and-2 pitch to lead off the inning.

I had never seen, in person, the Yankees win consecutive games in the same series at Fenway Park. One win was hard enough to come by, but the second win in a row had been my 0-and-2 against Pedro. That is no longer the case as the Yankees took down the second and third games of the opening series to ride a two-game winning streak into Tampa Bay this weekend. Let’s just hope they can continue their winning ways without me on hand.

Aside from the “Yankees suck” chants and the “You did steroids” chant directed at A-Rod which is ironic coming from a fan base whose team has David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron on the roster, it was a rather smooth two nights at Fenway Park. I probably could have done without a soggy Fenway Frank bun that looked like it was dipped in water and prepared for Joey Chestnut or Kobayashi, but you can’t have it all, and I will gladly take the two Yankees wins over a dry hotdog bun.

Judging by the atmosphere at Fenway, the rivalry hasn’t lost a step in Boston and with the Yankees fresh off the 2009 championship, the rivalry has gained steamed as Bostonians returned to second-rate citizens in the AL East. While the rivalry continues to have a strong foundation and key players that help fuel the hatred between Yankees fans and Red Sox fans, one player is being left behind as the battle for AL East supremacy carries on.

In left center at Fenway Park, there is a scoreboard screen that lists the lineup of the team batting and an asterisk denotes the hitter currently at the plate. During Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, I remember looking at the screen in extra innings and trying to figure out how long the Yankees had until the asterisk made its way back to the heart of the order to Ramirez and Ortiz. And when the duo was due up in the bottom of an inning, I kept thinking to myself, “The Yankees have to score now.” Sure enough, it was Ortiz who had the game-winning hit off Esteban Loaiza in the 14th inning.

I now find myself hoping the asterisk finds Ortiz as quickly as possible because with Jason Varitek on the bench, Ortiz has become the easiest out in the Red Sox lineup.

There was a time when David Ortiz was the symbol of fear for Yankees fans. Extra-base hits were expected from him and when he was held to only a single, you felt like you just passed a cop going 80 mph but didn’t get pulled over. Ortiz wasn’t fazed by anything in the box (mainly because the Yankees never tried to move him off the plate) and he just waited for Yankees pitchers to miss their location by a centimeter before making them pay.

From 2003-July 31, 2008, David Ortiz was a rock star in Boston, and probably could have defeated Ted Kennedy for a seat in the Senate if he wanted to. He received the loudest ovations when he was introduced as the hitter, his jersey was the most popular among Red Sox fans and kids across New England began spitting on their batting gloves in between pitches to mimic the slugger Theo Epstein revived off the Twins’scrap heap. But since Manny Ramirez left Boston, the cheers for “the designated hitter, number 34, David Ortiz” have become almost derisive, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis have taken over the jersey sales, and I’d imagine little league coaches are strongly advising against Ortiz’s routine and habits at this point.

Since August 1, 2008 (when Ortiz began playing without Manny), Ortiz has hit .261 with 37 home runs and 142 RBIs in 202 games. It has taken him basically a season and a third to produce the same power numbers he did annually from 2004-2007, and those years he hit .301, .300, .287 and .332. He wasn’t hitting .261, which is 20 points below his .281 career average.

On Tuesday night after David Ortiz went hitless again, he wasn’t the happy and smiling face from his days as one of the league’s best sluggers when he flipped out on reporters.

“You guys wait ’til [expletive] happens, then you can talk [expletive]. Two [expletive] games, and already you [expletives] are going crazy.

“What’s up with that, man? [Expletive]. [Expletive] 160 games left. That’s a [expletive]. One of you [expletives] got to go ahead and hit for me.”

As my Red Sox friend Hurley pointed out, everyone always assumed that Ortiz played babysitter to Manny in Boston, but maybe it was the other way around?

I have long waited for the day David Ortiz was no longer able to hit a baseball consistently or with authority, but now that the day has come, it’s actually pretty sad. Don’t get me wrong, the only thing I hate about Fenway Park more than “Sweet Caroline,” which is also the only time I wish my name wasn’t Neil, are the “Papi” chants that pollute the air when David Ortiz steps in with runners in scoring position. But David Ortiz has been the heart of the Red Sox order for so long and is one of the few remaining players on the Red Sox from the heated battles of 2003 and 2004 that it’s almost like a piece of the rivalry dies as his power does too.

Ortiz drove in the only run for the Red Sox on Wednesday, but it was his only hit of the series in 11 at-bats. When the “Papi” chants began in the bottom of the eighth inning on Wednesday in a 1-1 game with Ortiz stepping in to face Chan Ho Park, for a second it felt like three years ago as the Fenway crowd tried to push the calendar back to 2007 hoping for some late-game heroics from Ortiz. But Ortiz’s alter ego “Big Papi” no longer exists, as Chan Ho Park needed just three pitches to strike out plain old David Ortiz and end the inning.

At some point in the very near future (I have the over/under set for May 1), David Ortiz won’t be the full-time DH for the Red Sox. At some point Theo Epstein and Terry Francona are going to have to let Mike Lowell play.

Maybe Mike Lowell hit on Terry Francona’s wife at the Christmas party or ran over Theo Epstein’s dog for them to treat him so poorly, but eventually they are going to have to realize that they are wasting $12 million on the bench while David Ortiz wastes at-bats. I love the mistreatment of Lowell that goes on with the Red Sox because it means less doubles off the Green Monster for the Red Sox and more strikeouts for the Yankees. But you’d have to think eventually enough will be enough.

This is the last year of Ortiz’s contract with the Red Sox with the team holding a $12.5 million option for 2011 that is unlikely to get picked up. As new faces Curtis Granderson, Randy Winn, Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro and John Lackey enter the rivalry to begin another chapter in Yankees-Red Sox history, the chapter on David Ortiz looks to be coming to an end. And even though he will take a piece of the rivalry with him, it’s safe to say he won’t be missed.

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