FORT MYERS, Fla. — David Ortiz graciously stayed on the field after taking batting practice Thursday to pose for photos and sign autographs for the players from Northeastern.
One of the Huskies who approached him was lefthander James Mulry, a 20-year-old sophomore from West Roxbury, Mass., who played at Boston Latin.
They met again in the third inning when Mulry was on the mound and Ortiz came to the plate. Mulry got ahead of the World Series Most Valuable Player and struck him out swinging at a slider off the plate.
Ortiz walked back to the dugout smiling as the crowd of 7,789 at JetBlue Park cheered Mulry’s fortitude.
“I was trying to see if I can get a strike to hit or whatever, but he ended up throwing me a nasty breaking ball,” Ortiz said. “He can party tonight.”
Mulry had struck out Dustin Pedroia with a fastball before he got Ortiz. He nearly whiffed Mike Napoli looking at a two-strike curveball to end the inning but umpire Steve Ward called the pitch outside.
“That was a lot of fun,” Mulry said. “Usually my curveball is a better pitch, especially with a lefty. But the slider worked. I’ll never forget that inning.”
The Northeastern players were on the top step of the dugout as Mulry pitched.
“Those are lifetime moments for the kids,” said Huskies coach Neil McPhee, who is in his 29th season at the school and will retire in June. “It’s fun for me to see it, too. These are the Red Sox we’re playing, after all.”
Mulry had appeared in two games earlier this season, giving up eight earned runs over five innings against Texas A&M and Houston Baptist. But he was strong against the Sox, allowing one run over three innings.
“It’s unreal,” Mulry said. “I can’t compare anything to facing these guys. This is going to help my confidence a lot.
“I didn’t get to pitch against the Sox last season but I was excited I would get the chance when they told me a few days ago.”
Said Ortiz, “He can have a drink tonight and say, ‘I struck out Papi.’ ”
That Ortiz could laugh about striking out against a college sophomore was a sign of how well spring training is going for him, especially when compared with last season.
Ortiz did not get into a single game in Florida last season. Most of his time was spent with trainers working to improve the strength and flexibility of his right Achilles’ tendon. The injury caused Ortiz to miss nearly the entire second half of the 2012 season and was slow to heal.
Ortiz ventured onto the field only occasionally, cautiously running the bases and doing agility drills under close supervision. He was allowed to take batting practice but never came close to getting into a game.
“It was tough because I was away from my teammates and doing my own thing,” he said. “I had to take care of it and make sure I was going to be OK. The doctors told me I didn’t really have a choice.”
When the team left Fort Myers, Ortiz stayed behind and started the season on the disabled list. He missed 15 games before joining the lineup April 20. Despite the lack of preparation, Ortiz hit .309 with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs.
The Red Sox had every intention to regularly rest Ortiz over the course of the season but he sat out only 10 other games. Before the season was over, Ortiz even had two triples and a career-high four stolen bases.
“Every year is different for me,” Ortiz said. “Last year I didn’t play in spring training but I got stronger doing all kind of stuff with the trainer here. That probably helped me out for the season.
“Spring training is kind of long sometimes . . . sometimes it kind of wears you out.”
But now that he’s back on the field this season, Ortiz said it “feels like I’m doing something new.
“I’m just happy to be back in the groove. I’ll be good to go on April 1.”
Ortiz was reminded that the season actually starts on March 31 in Baltimore.
“It’s March now?” he said. “Then when the light pops, Papi will pop and show up.”