David Ortiz watched baseball’s postseason on television the last three years, nursing physical and spiritual bruises after the Red Sox failed to quality.
The playoffs, Ortiz said last week, seem longer when you’re not a participant and that only made his pain worse. At the age of 37, Ortiz wondered if he was running out of chances.
Now the Red Sox are back and Big Papi is roaring. Ortiz belted two home runs Saturday night as the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-4, to take command of their American League Division Series.
The Sox lead the best-of-five series, 2-0, after scoring 19 runs in the first two games. They can advance with a victory in Game 3 Monday afternoon at Tampa Bay.
Ortiz had a solo home run into the Red Sox bullpen in the first inning, reliever Franklin Morales deftly catching the ball and flipping it into the crowd.
Ortiz ended the scoring with a blast just inside the right-field foul pole in the eighth inning that had the sold-out crowd of 38,705 shaking Fenway Park.
For all his October heroics over the years, it was the first time Ortiz hit two home runs in the same postseason game. Both came off Tampa Bay starter David Price, a tough lefthander who had faced Ortiz 42 times previously without giving up a home run.
“As long as we win, it means a lot. It’s not happening every day, but when it happens, especially on these occasions, it’s good,” said Ortiz, whose 14 postseason home runs are a Red Sox record.
The Sox have won the first two games of a postseason series eight times and advanced seven times, the only exception coming in the 1986 World Series against the Mets.
But if Rays manager Joe Maddon is concerned, he hid it well.
“I’m really looking forward to Game 5 here,” he said. “Boston this time of the year is kind of lovely, and I’m looking forward to coming back in a few days.”
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia smiled when that comment was relayed to him.
“That’s what Joe should say. He’s a great manager. He has those guys believing,” Pedroia said. “I’m not going to say anything bad about Joe. I respect the heck out of him and so does our whole team.”
Said Ortiz: “He’s got a right to say it. He’s a good manager.”
The Rays would do well just to get to Game 4 at this point. The Red Sox have 25 hits — 11 for extra bases — and seven walks in the first two games of the series. They have scored in eight of 16 innings.
The Red Sox have All-Star righthander Clay Buchholz, arguably their best starter, rested and ready for Game 3. He will face Alex Cobb, a pitcher the Sox hit hard during the regular season.
Price, Tampa Bay’s ace, allowed seven runs on nine hits over seven innings. He walked two and struck out five.
The Red Sox were aggressive against Price early in the count, not giving him a chance to take control of the at-bat.
“We kind of went away from our normal approach to try to work the count, get the starting
pitcher out of the game,” said Pedroia, who drove in three runs. “We had to hit.”
The Sox also were aggressive on the bases. Ellsbury singled and stole second in the first inning and took third when the throw from catcher Jose Molina went into center field. Pedroia’s sacrifice fly scored him.
In the third inning, doubles by David Ross and Ellsbury gave the Sox another run. After Shane Victorino singled, Pedroia grounded to third base. Victorino took out second baseman Ben Zobrist with a hard slide and Ellsbury scored when no double play was turned.
“I thought we had a very good approach against [Price],” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Any time you get seven runs off of David Price, you’ve had a good night, and tonight was that.”
Price fell to 0-4 with a 5.81 earned run average in four postseason starts. In 20 previous career regular-season starts against the Red Sox, Price had not allowed more than four runs.
Red Sox starter John Lackey, who lacked for run support much of the season, got the win despite allowing four runs on seven hits over 5⅓ innings.
“It was fun to see our guys do their thing. It was a great team win,” he said. “Guys scoring runs early on really helped me out.”
Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara combined on a scoreless 3⅔ innings. Breslow stranded two runners in the sixth inning. Tampa, down by two runs, grounded into double plays started by Pedroia and turned by Drew, to end the seventh and eighth innings.
When Uehara got the final out for his first career postseason save, Ortiz came out of the dugout and lifted him up. For all their changes, the Red Sox remain very much Ortiz’s team.
“Can’t say enough about him,” Farrell said. “He’s probably surpassed our expectation of number of games played. He’s been so productive, which has been consistent with his entire career. He’s the main cog in our lineup.”
Ortiz, back in the spotlight, met the media wearing sunglasses.
“It’s not over. We gotta keep on fighting. We know we’re playing against a good ballclub,” he said. “They always find a way to win games. You can’t take anything for granted. We’ve got a lot of hungry guys here. That’s all that matters.”