By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 13, 2007
BOSTON, Oct. 12 -- The pinch runner shot out of the dugout, nearly beating Manny Ramirez to first base, fresh legs subbing for tired ones. It was the eighth inning, Ramirez had just reached base for the fifth straight time, and he happily retired to the Boston Red Sox' clubhouse to start an early celebration for a blowout victory. Out at second base, however, David Ortiz was incredulous. He stared into his dugout as if to say, "What about me?" But all he got in response was giggles; the Red Sox were out of pinch runners. Ortiz stayed in the game, feigning exasperation. Or maybe it was real.
In Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night, Ortiz and Ramirez, the Red Sox' modern day Ruth and Gehrig, did nothing overtly spectacular -- no towering home runs, rockets off the Green Monster or signature walk-offs. But by merely taking pitches, lining hits, constantly reaching base, and by simply existing in the center of the Red Sox' lineup, they dominated a game like only they can do.
And at the rate they are going, they will dominate the month of October. The Cleveland Indians literally could not get them out in the Red Sox' 10-3 victory in front of 36,986 fans at Fenway Park, as Ortiz and Ramirez reached base in all 10 of their combined plate appearances, helping turn an expected pitcher's duel between aces Josh Beckett and C.C. Sabathia into a definitive blowout.
The Red Sox won because Beckett delivered six more excellent innings for them -- not another shutout, like the ones he had pitched in three of his previous six postseason starts (including Game 1 of the division series) but at times just as dominant. And thanks to the blowout score, the Red Sox had the luxury of lifting him after only 80 pitches, raising the possibility they will bring him back on short rest in Game 4.
They won because Cleveland's Sabathia was nowhere near Beckett's equal -- the way he was during the regular season. He struggled mightily with his control, giving up eight runs (the most he has allowed all season) and failing to make it out of the fifth inning.
But mostly, the Red Sox won because Ortiz and Ramirez, perennial all-stars, possible future Hall of Famers, the most feared 3-4 combo in the game, have reached a new, previously uncharted level of production this postseason, blowing apart the baseball truism that even the best hitters are supposed to make outs more often than they reach base.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who went 1 for 3 and drove in three runs, on a night when every Red Sox starter had at least one hit. "They're unbelievable. They just have such solid at-bats. . . . It's normal for pitchers not to want them to beat you. But for them to get on base like they did today is a little bit ridiculous."
Their October numbers look like something out of a slo-pitch softball league. Including Friday night's game, Ortiz and Ramirez have reached base in 29 of their 36 postseason plate appearances -- an .805 on-base percentage. Combined with a 1.315 slugging percentage, it means their combined OPS is an otherworldly 2.121.
"We know they're going to pitch us carefully," said Ortiz, who has made only six outs in his last eight games. "We keep that in mind and take what they give us. . . . In the playoffs, when you walk somebody sometimes you have to pay for that later."
It was the Red Sox' first game in five days, thanks to their sweep of the Angels in the first round, and Beckett's first start in nine days. An afternoon of cold drizzle in New England gave way to clear, crisp skies and temperatures of 54 degrees at game time -- playoff weather.
At sunset, as fans were streaming into the stadium, the sky exploded in oranges and reds out beyond the Charles River, as the loudspeakers, somewhat curiously, played The Beatles' entire "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album -- the final, E-major chord of "A Day In the Life," which closes the record, ringing out expectantly throughout the building.
Beckett's shutout Friday night lasted only two batters, before Travis Hafner homered, but it clearly was an aberration, as Beckett set down the next 10 batters in order. By the time he took the mound in the sixth, he was coasting; it was already 8-1, and it was 10-2 by the time the inning ended. The Red Sox wasted no time in getting Beckett out of the game, though he probably could have gone at least two more innings had it been close.
Sabathia, meantime, faced Ortiz and Ramirez three times apiece, and never retired either of them. In the first, they lined back-to-back singles, with Ramirez's poke driving in Boston's first run. In the third, he hit Ortiz with a pitch to load the bases, then walked Ramirez to force in a run. And in the fifth, he walked Ortiz and gave up a single to Ramirez, part of the sequence that led to Sabathia's merciful exit.
By now, the Indians must be asking: What has happened to Sabathia's legendary control? He ranked third in the majors this season in walks per nine innings (1.38) -- an astounding figure for a power pitcher -- and never walked more than 10 batters in a month this season. But in two starts this postseason he has walked 11.
"C.C. was a little bit off tonight," Manager Eric Wedge said, "but he'll be back."
And when he is back, Ortiz and Ramirez will be right there waiting for him. Maybe by then, one of Sabathia's teammates will have gotten them out.