Ortiz's Bad Start Ends With Ejection
Sunday, August 20, 2006
PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 19 -- Ramon Ortiz is an emotional man, and standing in a hallway in the bowels of Citizens Bank Park late Saturday night, his mind raced. It was perhaps two hours after he had allowed eight runs in a single inning, two hours after he had been ejected from a game for hitting a batter intentionally. And here he was, at the low point of what has been a decidedly sporadic season, hiding behind nothing in the wake of the Washington Nationals' 11-2 shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies.
"You know what?" Ortiz said, responding to a question about what pitches failed him in his shortest outing of the year. "I don't want to talk about pitches working. They hit everything.
"My last two games, I pitch horrible. I don't want to say anything, any excuses. They hit me very well the last two games. That's all I can say. I don't got any excuses. They hit everything I throw. Nothing I can do."
Ortiz's performance, and the Phillies' response to it, added a little sizzle to a Saturday night in which an announced crowd of 34,881 watched Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard hit his major league-leading 43rd home run of the season, watched rookie left-hander Cole Hamels effectively stifle the Nationals over six innings, and watched Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and right fielder Shane Victorino each slap out three hits.
But the focus of the night was Ortiz, even in his brief appearance, and his relationship with the Philadelphia hitters -- particularly Chase Utley and Aaron Rowand, both of whom he plunked. On that score, Ortiz wanted to make one thing perfectly clear.
"I have to pitch inside," Ortiz said. "I go inside, I don't try to hit a guy."
The Phillies believed differently, and they had ample evidence to back up their case. Ortiz began the second inning by allowing three of the first four men to reach base, loading them up for the opposing pitcher, Hamels. He followed by allowing Hamels to slam a two-run single into right field. Rollins responded with an RBI double, Victorino with a two-run single, and the Phillies were up 5-0.
Ortiz then fell behind Utley 3-0. The next pitch rode in on Utley, thumping him in the upper thigh. And before the matinee idol of a second baseman moseyed down to first base, he stared out at Ortiz. He gave a little smirk and something of a nod. The pitch would be remembered.
"The game's 5-0," Ortiz said. "What do you think? I try to hit a guy? I don't want to hit nobody. I don't like to hit people. I have to throw pitches inside."
He was not able to get an 0-1 pitch inside on the next hitter, Howard. He left the ball out over the plate, and Howard smashed it to right-center field. It didn't land until it had reached the Nationals' bullpen, an estimated 458 feet away. That Howard would later be answered by Nationals left fielder Alfonso Soriano -- who hit a solo homer, his 40th, in the fifth inning -- would scarcely matter. The Phillies led 8-0, and Ortiz was reeling.
"He didn't miss any bats," Nationals Manager Frank Robinson said. "He was behind hitters, and didn't make good pitches. If you do that, you're going to get hit up here."
Yet Robinson kept Ortiz in the game, and after he recorded an out, Rowand came to the plate -- the 11th hitter in the inning. Ortiz's first pitch, a fastball, went directly into Rowand's back.
"It was pretty obvious," Rowand said. "He didn't just miss. He hit me on the other side of my back."
Home plate umpire Paul Nauert didn't hesitate, stepping toward the mound and immediately ejecting Ortiz, as is his right if he feels a pitch was thrown with intent, whether a warning had been issued or not. Ortiz uttered one word, but otherwise didn't protest.
"The guy was upset because he was giving up runs," Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said.
Utley, though, was nearly as upset, and he came charging from the dugout toward the first base line. Nauert's hasty ejection of Ortiz, though, seemed to keep any scuffle in check. The benches never cleared. The bullpens never fully emptied. And when Robinson emerged from the dugout, he did so not to protest the ejection, but to call on another pitcher.
Asked afterward if he believed Ortiz hit Rowand intentionally, Robinson said: "I have no comment on that. The umpire evidently did. I have no say as to whether he was throwing at him or not. It doesn't matter what I think."
Ortiz knows what he thinks about his recent performance, and it's not good. After posting a 3.55 ERA in his first eight starts in July and August, he has now allowed 15 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings over his last two starts, both losses. His ERA, down to a season-low 4.60 less than a week ago, ballooned to 5.31 Saturday night.
"There's nothing you can say about it," Ortiz said. "We couldn't throw strikes. My last two games, I couldn't throw strikes."
As Ortiz defended himself against the Phillies' accusations, his voice rose, carrying through the clubhouse. Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire cut him off, and the pair headed into Robinson's office. The door closed. Several minutes later Ortiz reemerged, still shaken by his outing, still wondering what was going on.
He sighed. He had recorded five outs and given up eight runs. He had caused a fury. And after it all, he found himself in a slump.
"It's two games," he said. "Nothing you can do about that. Nothing I can change."