Ortiz's anger with the media misplaced
Papi plunking had nothing to do with reporters; it was retaliation, plain and simple
I'm inclined to give David Ortiz the benefit of the doubt for things said after 2 a.m., an hour in which conversation as a rule tends to veer toward the impolitic, ill-mannered and intemperate. By that time, Ortiz had been at Yankee Stadium for the better part of 10 hours, had endured an interminable rain delay and had the makings of a baseball-sized black and blue mark on his right thigh, courtesy of a fastball from Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia.
Ortiz also knew he wouldn't be hauling himself into bed for another couple of hours, at least, with the Red Sox needing to fly to Toronto, clear customs and bus downtown to the team hotel, lucky to grab a few hours' sleep before a game against the Blue Jays Friday night.
So it should probably come as little surprise to anyone that the sunny disposition usually associated with Big Papi was nowhere in sight when he drew himself up before a small cluster of bleary-eyed reporters gathered around his locker and blistered them with a short machine-gun burst of self-righteous anger. It was their fault, he made it clear, Sabathia felt obliged to drill him with a pitch in the fourth inning Thursday night.
"You waiting for me?'' he said. "There will be no questions. Just Big Papi talking, and if you don't like it, you can get the [expletive] out of here.
"I just want to thank you guys -- not all of you, most of you -- for the stat today of me not getting hit by the Yankees. I finally got hit. Hope you [expletives] are happy. I'm done.''
And with a few more muttered expletives, he was out the door. There would be no discussion of his remarkable performance in this three-game sweep of the Yankees: home runs in each of the first two games and two hits in the seventh inning of the series finale that served as catalyst and coda to Boston's stunning seven-run rally that deflated the last vestige of pinstriped pride.
Ortiz had been pushed toward the edge ever since Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he "didn't care for" the way he had flipped his bat following his home run off a Yankees rookie, Hector Noesi, on Tuesday night. That night, he seemed more bemused than anything that Girardi would have taken offense.
"I mean, it's not my first time, it's not going to be my last time,'' Ortiz had said. "Big deal. I enjoy the game. I'm a home run hitter. It's not like I do it all the time. It's part of the excitement, you know what I mean? What can I tell you?''
But when questions about Girardi's remarks persisted the next night, Ortiz grew more bellicose, finally saying, "I'm done with that [expletive].''
Girardi, for his part, seemed eager to get past the flip-flap, and Yankees pitchers obviously did not consider it egregious enough to target Ortiz the next night.
"He's had a lot of success [against the Yankees],'' Girardi said before Thursday's game. "I think you do get feelings about certain teams. We moved him off the plate [Tuesday], and the next pitch or two, he hit a home run.
"The bottom line is if you don't make pitches he's going to hurt you and hurt you bad.''
It is true that after Tuesday's game, in which Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester kneecapped Mark Teixeira and Russell Martin with cut fastballs (both clearly with no malice aforethought) and Ortiz had (in Girardi's view) shown up the Bombers with his bat flip, it was widely disseminated that Ortiz had never been hit by a pitch by the Yankees in 160 regular-season games.
By any measure, that is a remarkable number, not only in underscoring that Yankees pitchers had never placed a bull's-eye on his back, but that not a single errant pitch, especially from a left-hander, had so much as grazed the billowy blouse of his uniform. It is even more striking given the damage Ortiz has inflicted on the Yankees over the years --.307 average, 34 home runs, 124 RBIs and the epic back-to-back walk-off hits (one a home run) in the 2004 ALCS.
But here is where Ortiz gives too much credit to the media for Sabathia implanting a fastball in his leg:
• The Yankees did not throw at him Wednesday, even with headlines such as "Papi Crock" blaring from the back page of tabloids.
• Even after Josh Beckett hit Derek Jeter in the elbow with the second pitch of Thursday's game, a further pretext for throwing at Ortiz had they already been inflamed by the media to do so, Sabathia didn't even come inside to Ortiz.
• It was only after Beckett also hit Alex Rodriguez in the hip with a pitch in the third inning that Sabathia responded. By then, the scorecard showed five Yankees hit by pitches in the series, the Red Sox none. The Yankees' left-hander, of course, insisted it was just a pitch that got away, but it was retaliation executed with textbook precision, thrown in a place -- the meaty part of Ortiz's thigh -- intended to inflict minimal damage.
• Finally -- and this is the part Ortiz ignored most in his middle-of-the-night rant -- this was hardly the first time it has been noted in print and on the public airwaves that the Yankees have never made a Ortiz a marked man. Consider this headline on a column by Mike Vaccaro in the New York Post: "It's About Time the Bombers Drop David"
"The Yankees have to drop Papi," Vaccaro wrote. "They need to brush the Beast back. The Yankees need to pick out one of David Ortiz's chins and let a little music drive across his whiskers. And they need to do this immediately. If Ortiz were any more comfortable at the plate, he'd bring a chaise longue, a pitcher of pina coladas and a couple of Cuban cigars with him to the batter's box.''
That appeared in the Post on May 9, 2006. Five years ago.
And it wasn't just the tabloids. The august New York Times noted that Ortiz had never been hit by a pitch by the Yankees and that after Andy Pettitte had come inside high and tight to Ortiz in spring training maybe that approach was about to change under the team's new manager. Fella by the name of Joe Girardi.
"You have to try and take any hitter out of their comfort zone,'' said Dave Eiland, the Yankees pitching coach at the time, "whether it's David Ortiz or anybody else.''
That was on April 12, 2008. Three years ago.
So if the Yankees are taking their cues from the media, a dubious proposition for any team, they were awfully slow to absorb the message.
It's never fun to be hit by a pitch hurled at better than 90 mph. That's a proposition that would make cowards of most of us. It's understandable, then, why Ortiz was grumpy. But to suggest that CC was responding to anything but the long-understood baseball code that calls for a pitcher to stand up for his teammates? That might fly in the middle of the night, but it doesn't stand up to the light of day.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.