They are the Red Sox’ answer to Scylla and Charybdis, the twin monsters who terrorize opposing pitchers by guarding the heart of the Red Sox’ order. Or, as Tennessee Ernie Ford sang in “Sixteen Tons,” “If the right one don’t get ya, the left one will.”
They are Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, a.k.a. “Papi.” Ramirez has been a star since entering the major leagues 11 years ago. He has been on an Express Lane to Cooperstown since 1999-2000, when he knocked in an astonishing 287 runs in 265 games. Ortiz has had a far more circuitous route to stardom. But he has now caught up to his fellow Dominican. There is no more respected lefthanded hitter in the American League than the DH/first baseman/good-will ambassador who came to the Red Sox after being released by the penurious Minnesota Twins.
They are remarkably similar hitters, each able to maneuver his way into favorable counts, each with power to all fields, each willing to take a walk if need be. It must truly be a nightmare for rival pitchers to face the Boston Red Sox when each is on his game.
Ramirez did not sneak into the major leagues. It was well known in baseball circles that the Cleveland Indians had a young outfielder in their system who was very special. Splitting his time between Canton-Akron and Charlotte in 1993, Manny hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs in fewer than 500 at-bats. By the end of the year, he was in Cleveland. He was 21.
It took one full year for him to acclimate himself in the big leagues. He was young and uncomfortable personally, handicapped by his limited English. But the greatness potential was clearly there. Manny was only given 290 at-bats, but he had 17 homers, 60 RBIs, and a very respectable .558 slugging percentage.
His breakout season was 1995, when he was .308-31-107 with a .592 slugging percentage. He was something of a secret weapon on that team, usually batting seventh in a lineup that included Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel, Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, and Eddie Murray.
Thus was launched a phenomenal career. Numbers and ranking do not define anyone completely, but some players compile numerical resumes that are so consistently startling that they take on a life of their own. Manny Ramirez is one such player. There are few contemporary dossiers to match his. For example:
All-Star Games -- 8
Batting titles -- 1
RBI titles -- 1
Slugging percentage titles -- 3
OPS (slugging plus on-base) titles -- 3
100-RBI seasons -- 9
His average 162-game projection figures are .316-41-130 with a .411 on-base percentage and a .599 slugging percentage.
But something obviously had to be going on, or else the Red Sox would not have put him on waivers last winter. Manny does have his eccentricities, some of which are occasionally in evidence. No manager can be 100 percent certain that Manny will catch everything he should or run the bases with the proper gusto. There were times in the 2003 season when he was so laid back as to be borderline comatose.
The Red Sox were happily saved from themselves when the negotiations for Alex Rodriguez collapsed. Manny came trundling back to Boston, equipped with a new, improved approach to media relations. Supposedly encouraged by Kevin Millar to show the world his true self, the one his teammates have always known, Manny revealed himself to be witty and incisive. In 2003 he boycotted the media officially. In 2004 people were calling on local broadcast execs to give him his own show.
Ortiz was an entirely different matter. Here was a big, jovial guy who liked to laugh and joke in a thoroughly bilingual fashion. He managed to combine serious work habits with a let’s-have-a-party attitude that spread cheer throughout the clubhouse. Millar was justifiably given credit for infusing the 2003 team with spirit via his “Cowboy Up” campaign, but the truth is that Ortiz was equally responsible for putting smiles on teammates’ faces and boosting spirits when needed.
He had been released by the Twins after the 2002 season as part of their annual trim-the-payroll maneuverings. He had spent seven years in the Minnesota organization as something of a tease, never playing more than 130 games and never exceeding 415 at-bats.
More than anything, he was unlucky. The injury litany included a broken hamate bone in his right wrist (1998, a two-month disabled list stint), a fractured right wrist in 2000 (10 weeks on the DL), and bone chips in his left knee in 2002 (one month on the DL). Theo Epstein and his acolytes ran the numbers and decided that a guy who had hit a home run every 17 at-bats in 2001 might fit into their plans.
His impact was hardly immediate. He was used sparingly in the months of April and May of 2003 (appearing in a scant 31 of the first 54 games), and the word was he frequently was on the phone to his agent imploring him to “get me out of here.” Then the Red Sox traded Shea Hillenbrand to Arizona for Byung Hyun Kim. That, coupled with an injury to Jeremy Giambi, opened up a spot in the lineup for a DH/first baseman, and the rest, as they say, etc.
Ortiz started hitting in June of 2003 and he has not stopped. He had 29 homers and 82 RBIs in the final 97 games. He became almost the living definition of a power hitter. Not many people in baseball history can say that once upon a time they had 12 hits over an 11-day stretch, and all were for extra bases. David Ortiz can.
The man is an extra-base machine. Since joining the Red Sox, 52 percent (163 of 304) of his regular-season hits have been for extra bases.
He has improved greatly since joining the Red Sox. Joe Torre reported during the Yankees series that Ortiz once had “holes in his swing,” but no longer. He has made himself into the quintessentially dangerous Fenway hitter because, if pitched away, he will use the Wall to his advantage. He had a game-winning, opposite-field home run off Jarrod Washburn in Game 3 of the Angels series, and he led off the eighth inning of Game 5 in the Yankees series by smashing a Tom Gordon pitch off the Volvo sign, which is perched in the farthest reaches of deep, deep left-center. Watch batting practice any day, said Gabe Kapler. Righthanded hitters can’t reach that sign. But David Ortiz did.
The best thing about David Ortiz, aside from his talent and ebullience? He is only 28. He will be depositing baseballs all over the American League for years to come, presumably in a Red Sox uniform.
Mr. Scylla and Mr. Charybdis are coming off a fairly decent postseason, wouldn’t you say? Manny hit safely in every game and was named the World Series MVP. David had three game-winning hits, two of them homers and the other a single culminating a grinding 10-pitch at-bat against Esteban Loaiza. Even Reggie Jackson acknowledged that Ortiz should be called “Senor Octubre.” They combined for 41 hits (13 for extra bases), 20 runs scored, 20 walks, and 30 RBIs in the 14 games. So you can talk about this 3-4 combo, and that 3-4 combo, but the best 3-4 combo is right here. It’s Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, a pair of very tough bat-wielding hombres.