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Mr. Sunshine David Ortiz keeps the Red Sox loose--and in the playoff hunt

Aug. 02, 2004
Aug. 02, 2004

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Aug. 2, 2004

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Mr. Sunshine David Ortiz keeps the Red Sox loose--and in the playoff hunt

There was considerable angst at Fenway Park last Friday night
after the Red Sox lost to the Yankees, 8-7, and fell 9 1/2 games
behind New York in the American League East. Righthander Curt
Schilling, who surrendered seven runs in 5 1/3 innings, remained
in the dugout, his head buried in his hands. In the silent
clubhouse, rightfielder Trot Nixon, hands propped behind his
head, stared blankly into his locker, seemingly frozen in his
seat.

This is an article from the Aug. 2, 2004 issue Original Layout

Into this funereal scene strode David Ortiz, Boston's lumbering
6'4", 230-pound designated hitter-first baseman, who was
whistling as he made his way to his locker. "It's easy to get
real down after losing [to the Yankees], with the history this
[team] has," says Ortiz. "My attitude is, tomorrow's another
day."

It sure was. The Red Sox bounced back on Saturday with a
thrilling 11-10 victory that included a bench-clearing brawl in
the third inning and a walk-off, two-run home run by Bill Mueller
against the league's top closer, Mariano Rivera. After winning
again, 9-6, on Sunday night, Boston was a half game ahead of the
A's and the White Sox in the wild-card race.

Ortiz's sunny demeanor and offensive production have helped keep
the Red Sox afloat. "This team has been so up and down all year,"
says first baseman Kevin Millar. "One constant has been David's
hitting. He's saved us."

Batting third, ahead of All-Star leftfielder Manny Ramirez, Ortiz
is having an MVP-caliber year. In addition to hitting .307 at
week's end, he was second in the league in RBIs (88) and slugging
percentage (.615) and was tied for second in homers (26). "Beyond
his numbers, David is a huge clubhouse presence," says outfielder
Gabe Kapler. "He knows exactly the right thing to say or do at
the right time to fire us up and get us going again."

Ortiz is often seen flashing his wide, gap-toothed smile, but
don't be fooled; he is a fiery competitor. On July 16, after
being ejected for complaining about a called third strike, Ortiz
threw two bats onto the field and narrowly missed hitting two
umpires. (He received a five-game suspension but is appealing.)
In Saturday's brawl Ortiz swung at Yankees starter Tanyon Sturtze
(he missed), then wrestled the righthander to the ground. While
most Boston players downplayed the melee after the game, Ortiz
said, "I think it's the best thing that ever happened to us. It's
the start of something good."

Ortiz has been good for the Red Sox since signing a one-year deal
in January 2003, a month after being released by the cost-cutting
Twins. At the time, he was known around the league as a good
clubhouse presence but a flawed hitter. "When he first came up
with Minnesota, he had some holes in his swing you could
exploit," says Oakland manager Ken Macha. "You could throw the
ball in hard on his hands, speed it up against him, then change
speeds. Since then, he's closed the holes with a lot of hard
work." After hitting .288 with career highs in home runs (31) and
RBIs (101) last year, he signed a two-year, $12.5 million deal.

Ortiz, 28, also forged a strong bond with Ramirez, a fellow
Dominican, who has encouraged Ortiz to train more and be better
prepared before games. The two are nearly inseparable in the
batting cage and the dugout. "Manny pushes David a lot," says Red
Sox hitting coach Ron Jackson, who instructed Ortiz to open his
swing to help him catch up with inside pitches. "They are always
bouncing things off each other."

With righthanders Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, shortstop Nomar
Garciaparra and catcher Jason Varitek eligible for free agency
after the season, the Red Sox could undergo a major overhaul this
winter. Ortiz is a player Boston could rebuild around. "No one is
thinking about next year," he says. "We've still got a long way
to go this year."

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Ortiz is flat-out having his best season, ranking second in the AL in RBIs through Sunday.

Three Up

Los Angeles Dodgers

L.A. had won 17 of its last 20 games through Sunday, thanks to
the power surge of third baseman Adrian Beltre, who homered five
times in seven games.

Greg Maddux, RHP, Cubs

The four-time NL Cy Young winner won his second straight complete
game last week and moved within two wins of 300.

Rangers Attendance

Texas is drawing an average of 32,540 at Ameriquest Field in
Arlington--up more than 18% from last year.

Three Down

Roy Halladay, RHP, Blue Jays

After pitching a major-league-high 266 innings in 2003, last
year's AL Cy Young winner was 7-7 with a 4.35 ERA.

Magglio Ordonez, RF, White Sox

Ordonez, who had just nine homers and 37 RBIs, landed on the DL
last week with bone marrow edema in his left knee and could miss
the rest of the season.

Mets Defense

New York led the NL with 87 errors, including 20 by shortstop Kaz
Matsui, the most in the majors at his position.