Today's Sox Beat, which didn't make it onto the Union Leader site:
In a way, it’s too bad David Ortiz didn’t get one last curtain call from the Fenway Park crowd on Tuesday night.
Sure, now that he’s gone deep four times in his last nine games, Big Papi home runs no longer feel like Halley’s Comet-type special events. His fifth home run, though, was the most impressive longball he’s hit this season.
Up until about mid-May, Ortiz couldn’t hit anything. He swung and missed at 88-mile-an-hour fastballs over the middle of the plate. When he did make contact, he hit mostly pop-ups and lazy fly balls to left field. It looked as though he’d never go deep again.
Over the next two weeks or so, he started to hit mistakes. His first home run came on a 90-mile-an-hour fastball at the letters and over the middle of the plate; his second came on an 83-mile-an-hour changeup right in the middle of the strike zone.
On Tuesday night, though, he hit a pretty good pitch.
Florida righty Chris Volstad doesn’t throw 98 miles an hour, but he does throw a fastball with plenty of sink on it. A year ago, he allowed just three home runs in more than 175 innings split between Double-A and the major leagues. He hasn’t been close to that sharp so far this season, but when a fastball has that much sink on it, it’s never easy to hit over the fence.
The fastball Volstad threw Ortiz in Tuesday’s fourth inning wasn’t out and over the plate, either. It was up and in, the one location with which Ortiz has had trouble even when he’s hitting well. Ortiz took a hack at it – and he hit it a long, long way.
“He went after that ball pretty good,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “There was some aggression without muscling up. There was some bat speed without trying to generate so much bat speed you use your shoulders. He’s using his hands.
“It’s pretty obvious he’s starting to feel better about himself.”
Even better, Ortiz hit it into the bullpen in right field. In the last three years, he’d hit 36 of his 44 home runs at Fenway Park – more than 80 percent – to the right of the center-field triangle. Other than the cheapie he bounced off the Pesky Pole, though, each of the home runs he’d hit the second had gone to center field or left field.
Now that he’s pulling the ball with power to all fields – not just left field – he can truly be confident that he’s back.
“That’s what I normally do when I’m swinging the bat good,” said Ortiz, now six home runs shy of 300 for his career. “I don’t really pick a spot to hit the ball. I just swing hard, wherever the ball is at, and I let things happen.”
That, of course, is exciting for the rest of his team to see.
“We knew it was going to come,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “Everyone goes through a tough time. It doesn’t matter if it’s the start, in the beginning, or at the end. Everyone is going to hit a time where they struggle. Everyone goes through it. But now he’s found his stroke, and it’s time to take off.”