David Ortiz continues to make mark
BOSTON -- Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been behind the plate plenty of times and has witnessed the point of impact when a baseball is launched out of the ballpark.
There is a distinct sound when the ball explodes off the bat, and when Saltalamacchia sees and hears the start of a home run, it's not a good feeling because that means the opposing team's batter just got the better of his pitcher.
That wasn't the case Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
Saltalamacchia was on deck in the bottom of the fourth inning with the Red Sox holding a three-run lead when teammate David Ortiz stepped into the batter's box with the bases loaded.
Ortiz absolutely crushed a 3-1 offering from Kansas City Royals starter Bruce Chen and deposited it into the right-field seats well beyond the visitors' bullpen for a grand slam. The 38,329 fans in attendance went nuts as the Red Sox ran up a seven-run lead en route to a 12-5 victory.
Saltalamacchia had a great view as the ball sliced through the air.
"He crushed that ball," Saltalamacchia said. "When him and Adrian [Gonzalez] are hitting we always seem to win games."
It was Ortiz's 10th career grand slam, his first since July 30, 2010 against Detroit. It was his ninth with the Red Sox, tying Rico Petrocelli for second on the club's all-time list. Ted Williams tops that category with 17.
"You don't get to hit with the bases loaded all that often and he hit it about 400 feet," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He's been doing it all year. I think a lot of times with David and RBIs, it's opportunities. With all hitters, you come up with the bases loaded enough, there's nowhere to put him."
Ortiz collected his 1,000th Red Sox RBI on the shot to become only the sixth player in club history to reach that milestone, joining Carl Yastrzemski (1,844), Williams (1,839), Jim Rice (1,451), Dwight Evans (1,346) and Bobby Doerr (1,247).
Sporting a black Boston Bruins hat, with the visor off to the side, Ortiz spoke humbly about his accomplishments and admirably about the players before him.
"When your name gets in the mix with guys who have played here their whole career, it's a compliment," Ortiz said. "It's something you don't think about right now, or while you're playing, but when you're done you kind of sit down and think I did OK when I was there."
When Ortiz arrived on the scene via a free-agent signing on Jan. 22, 2003, he couldn't have imagined the cult status he would achieve in Boston. Neither could the Red Sox.
Now, nine seasons later, he continues to be a major component of the Boston lineup.
Within the last month, Ortiz's playing time has been hampered by the interleague schedule, the All-Star break and his three-game suspension. Still, he's been locked in at the plate of late, hitting safely in 11 of his last 13 games at a .340 clip (18-for-53).
"I've been feeling good," he said.
He's not alone.
The Red Sox have won 19 of their last 23 games, and while the pitching has been good, Boston's offense has been explosive.
Ellsbury led off Wednesday's game with a solo home run that almost knocked over the Pesky Pole for his 17th homer of the season. He's riding a nine-game hitting streak and has a .474 average during the stretch. In July, he's 38-for-92 (.413) with eight homers and 20 RBIs.
Pedroia extended his hitting streak to 24 games when he followed Ellsbury's lead and crushed a solo home run in the first. His streak is the longest by a second baseman in franchise history, and also the longest in the American League this season. He's hitting .406 (43-for-106) with one triple, nine doubles, eight homers, 18 RBIs, 26 runs and 11 walks since the streak began on June 29. Pedroia has reached base safely in 36 straight games.
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"Ellsbury and Pedroia are making it tough on [opposing pitchers] and what they're doing at the top of the lineup is ridiculous. They're putting so much pressure on the pitcher I'm sure they get you out of control a little bit," Ortiz said. "When the Muddy Chicken gets hot, look out for the Laser Show."
As much of the focus has been on Ellsbury, Pedroia and Ortiz lately, the entire order has been doing the job. Gonzalez turned in his league leading 19th three-hit game, has multiple hits in each of his last four games and is hitting .533 (16-for-30) during his current seven-game hitting streak.
"It's fun, especially what we went through at the beginning of the season and everything got a little shaky," Ortiz said. "Everybody was running out of patience and that's when my boys come through and let people know to relax."
Ortiz has been asked frequently this month how this lineup compares to the World Series title teams in 2004 and 2007. He usually says, "I'll wait until November to answer that one."
He felt the same way after Wednesday's win.
"We still have two months left," Ortiz said. "From everyone I've seen from head to toe, it's what you really want to be a part of."
During this current homestand, there have been a few milestones reached by Red Sox personnel. Before Ortiz's accomplishments Wednesday night, veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield recorded his 2,000th strikeout earlier this week and Francona notched his 1,000th win as a manager.
Francona trusts Ortiz won't be resting on his laurels.
"You get players like that, like Wake this week, good players that have played for a long time, there's going to be things happening," Francona said. "He'll hopefully fly right by that and work on the next 1,000."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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