Friday, July 3, 2009

Kottaras hits first big-league home run

Rocco Baldelli on May 9. David Ortiz hit his first home run on May 20. Mark Kotsay hit his first home run on on June 7. Heck, even Josh Beckett hit his first home run on June 14.

But it wasn't until Friday night against the Mariners that George Kottaras got the monkey off his back, blasting a line drive over the visitors' bullpen in right field to become the final Red Sox regular to hit his first home run of the season -- and, incidentally, the first home run of his career.

"A couple of guys have given me a hard time about not hitting one for a while, but I don't go up there trying to hit a home run," he said. "If it happens, it's going to happen. Tonight, I didn't try to do it. It just happened."

(Who, specifically, has given him a hard time? "I can't say," he said with a smirk. "That's clubhouse talk.")

Kottaras had come awfully close to his first home run in the seventh inning, turning on a 94-mile-an-hour fastball from Felix Hernandez and driving it to the warning track before Ichiro Suzuki hauled it in. But when reliever Mark Lowe threw a 98-mile-an-hour fastball in almost the same spot in the 11th inning, Kottaras left no doubt.

"I didn't quite get all of that first one," he said. "The one I hit out, I hit pretty well. That felt pretty good."

Said catcher Jason Varitek, "That ball got out of there in a hurry."

The ball took one hop and landed in the hands of Manchester's Amanda Townsend -- who was promptly whisked away by Fenway Park security. She and her dad presented the ball to Kottaras outside the Red Sox locker room; Kottaras disappeared back into the locker room for a few minutes and re-emerged with an autographed bat.

"One of the security guys came over -- and I actually thought, 'I know I didn't hurt anybody!'" Townsend said. "I was nervous. He was like, 'You've got to come with me.' I was like, 'Am I in trouble?' He said, 'No. It was just his first home run, and he'd like the ball.'"

The ball went right into Kottaras' locker and likely will find its way back to Ontario in the near future.

"I'm sure my mom will put it away somewhere and keep it," he said. "She takes care of all that stuff."

Kottaras hadn't let himself get too worked up over his inability to hit a home run in his relatively brief major-league career. It's not easy to get a feel for the plate when you're only playing once or twice a week.

Still, though, it was a little bit odd to see a guy who had hit 22 home runs in fewer than 400 at-bats in Triple-A last season go this long without going deep.

"He matches up good against any fastball pitcher -- but sometimes he gets tough draws," shortstop Nick Green said. "He got a tough draw with Felix tonight."

Skeptical? Among the pitchers Kottaras had faced through the first three months: Matt Garza, Jair Jurrjens, Cliff Lee, Javier Vazquez and Jered Weaver. On top of that, the lefthanded hitter hit a stretch between mid-April and mid-May in which he'd had almost as many plate appearances against lefthanded pitchers (13) as against righties (21).

"He had a rough draw the first month or two," said left fielder Jason Bay about his fellow Canadian. (Bay became a U.S. citizen on Thursday but did not renounce his Canadian citizenship.) "It seemed like every time Wake pitched, we were facing a lefty. It was unbelievable the way it worked out. He's a guy that only gets out there once, twice a week, and now you're getting a lefty. He scuffled at the beginning, but his last four or five starts, he's looked really good and swung the bat well."

In his last six starts, in fact, Kottaras is hitting .364 with four doubles -- and that elusive home run.

"He's a strong kid, and when he gets it in that area where he can get the head (of the bat) to it, he can hit it a long way," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

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