Commentary

Ortiz makes quick work of Shields

Updated: June 30, 2010, 3:19 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The decisive blow in the Boston Red Sox's 8-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night was preceded by a trip to the mound from visiting manager Joe Maddon.

The game was scoreless in the bottom of the fifth. First base was open, runners were on second and third, and Maddon wanted to discuss strategy with pitcher James Shields.

Would they pitch to David Ortiz? Or would they walk him to load the bases, taking their chances with Kevin Youkilis?

The numbers made it an easy choice.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonJames Shields paid for his mistake in leaving a pitch over the plate while trying to pitch around David Ortiz.

The left-handed hitting Ortiz entered the game 11-of-28 lifetime in the regular season against the right-handed throwing Shields. Meanwhile, Youkilis was 3-of-28.

The Rays went against the numbers. And they paid dearly.

Almost before Maddon could return to his perch in the third-base dugout, Ortiz deposited a first-pitch fastball over the visitor's bullpen and about five rows into the right-field seats, giving the Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"I was literally trying to throw it about a foot off the [plate], and he was ambushing me," said Shields, who is winless in his past seven starts. "That was the turning moment in the game, I think."

No question about that, as both Maddon and Red Sox manager Terry Francona agreed. Maddon said Shields' performance "really came down to that one pitch," while Francona felt Ortiz' blast "changed the game."

Maddon took the blame for pitching to Ortiz, a decision he said was made after talking to pitching coach Jim Hickey and then visiting with Shields.

"Don't blame anybody but me," Maddon said. "A lot of it has to do with what's been going on more recently with certain hitters. [Shields] felt good about it, so I felt good about it.

"He did not want to throw that pitch where he did, I promise you that. It always comes down to execution, so you're going to look at something like that and consider it the wrong decision. It was for tonight, obviously the way it turned out. He did not execute what he was trying to do. That happens too."

After a manager makes a trip to the mound in a situation like that, it can sometimes throw a hitter's timing off. Francona was impressed that Ortiz wasn't affected.

"I thought David did a good job being ready to hit. A lot of times you see that happen where the pitcher will try to sneak a fastball by him, and the hitter can outthink himself, but David was ready for his pitch and got it," Francona said.

Ortiz said he wasn't surprised that the Rays pitched to him and was straightforward in describing his approach, which was "just see the ball and hit it -- simple."

On a night when the main theme hovering over the Red Sox was how the team would respond to a slew of injuries, Ortiz's powerful blast served as a reminder that he is still capable of injecting life into a depleted team with one swing. The home run was his 17th of the season.

With no Dustin Pedroia and no Victor Martinez in the lineup in the coming weeks, the Red Sox will continue to rely on Ortiz. He insists that he feels no added pressure.

"Not at all," he said. "We've been able to have different guys come through every night and when you have everyday players injured, you've just got to keep on rolling the same way until they get back. When you try to be the man every night, you just put pressure on yourself and it doesn't work like that."

Ortiz might have had the striking blow Tuesday, but the Red Sox received other big contributions at the plate.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre (4-for-4) continues to sizzle, now hitting .349 on the season. Second baseman Bill Hall also got into the act, hitting his sixth home run of the season, a two-run shot over the left-field wall in the seventh inning. Catcher Jason Varitek also knocked in two runs.

But Ortiz's blow was the catalyst, the turning point of the game.

When Maddon made his visit to the mound, it looked like Ortiz would be intentionally walked. Instead, he would soon be trotting around the bases.

"When Joe came out," Shields said, "he asked me who I'd rather face, and I told him I wanted to face Ortiz, but I wasn't going to throw anything over the [plate].

"I was going to try to intentionally unintentionally walk him, maybe he would chase something. I was trying to throw a fastball about a foot off the plate, just kind of show him the fastball, and I ended up yanking it right down the middle. I don't even know how I did it. I knew it was gone. As soon as I released it out of my hand, I knew it was right down the middle. He couldn't pass that up."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots, and occasionally the Red Sox, for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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