Their run-ins never seemed to last long. The few times David Ortiz and Neal Cotts crossed paths, Cotts did his damage and disappeared.
There was a seven-pitch strikeout in 2004, a four-pitch strikeout in 2005, two five-pitch strikeouts in 2006. Then they didn’t face each other again for seven years.
Their meetings were so sporadic that Ortiz hardly had a chance to figure out Cotts.
“This is a guy you kind of get to see once in a while, you know?” Ortiz said.
The four pitches Ortiz saw from Cotts in the Red Sox’ 10-7 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday may as well have been one white blur.
Fastball up, fastball up, slider down, fastball away.
Another at-bat, another strikeout.
But Ortiz took mental notes for the next time they crossed paths. He didn’t have to wait a year. Or seven.
In Wednesday’s 4-2 win, the Red Sox trailed, 2-1, in the eighth inning with one out and runners at the corners when Ortiz walked to the plate and stared out at the pitcher who was 5-0 against him. From the time he stepped in the box, Ortiz was flipping through his mental notepad.
“He’s a guy that his ball moves hard away late against lefties,” Ortiz said afterward. “That at-bat that I had against him the other night, helped me out to make some adjustments.”
Meanwhile, the Red Sox weren’t just wishing Ortiz would work some magic. They were betting on it.
Ryan Roberts had been with the Sox all of two days. The player for whom he was filling in at third base, Will Middlebrooks, was sitting next to Roberts in the dugout and asked him a simple question.
“You’ve never played with David, right?” Middlebrooks said.
“Nah,” Roberts told him.
“There’s a good chance he hits a homer here,” Middlebrooks said.
Roberts was essentially a fan at that point.
“I just really want to see Fenway go wild,” Roberts said.
Middlebrooks had seen it enough in his three seasons.
“Any time he’s up, you can call a homer and 50 percent of the time you’re going to be right,” Middlebrooks said.
It took three pitches for Middlebrooks to be proven correct.
Ortiz let two sliders go by, then Cotts tried to sneak a fastball by him inside. Ortiz sent it howling at Pesky’s Pole.
“Bam,” Middlebrooks said. “Right after that.”
The only question was whether it would stay fair. Not even Ortiz knew for sure. He didn’t drop his bat until he saw first base umpire Jerry Meals signal a home run. It was Ortiz’s 24th career home run in the eighth inning or later.
“I wanted to make sure it was fair,” Ortiz said. “I stayed, watching it. I don’t know why I keep on hitting balls down the line like that.”
Even as Ortiz was circling the bases after crushing the three-run homer that launched the Red Sox out of a one-run deficit and into a two-run lead, Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos was pleading with anyone who would listen that the ball was foul. The umpiring crew needed only 44 seconds to review it.
“From our angle, it’s extremely difficult to tell,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “Jerry Meals makes the fair call on the homer. We felt like it would be inconclusive at best with any kind of replay that was available. We made a call ourselves just to see what the video was showing.”
Ortiz’s rocket was well inside the pole. His second homer of the year was the difference as Koji Uehara pitched a perfect ninth to seal it.
For Ortiz, if Cotts wanted to test him with an inside pitch, even though Ortiz has slugged .817 on pitches middle in and .743 on pitches down and over the past seven years, he was more than welcome.
“I’m old, man” Ortiz joked. “I’m trying to take the benefit of that.”
For the Sox, who entered the game second in the American League in hits but ninth in runs, having Ortiz come through was a welcome lift.
They walked away with two wins in three games against the Rangers and head into a four-game set with the Yankees in New York.
“Huge hit,” Farrell said. “Hopefully, this gives us a little momentum, finishing out a series win here. We go on a long road trip. Hopefully, this is a jump-start for us. But so many times has he bailed us out, and no different today.”
After throwing 109 pitches and notching eight strikeouts in 6⅔ innings, Red Sox starter Jake Peavy was in the clubhouse getting treatment when Ortiz stepped to the plate. He wasn’t by a television to see the homer. He actually heard the call on radio.
“You can’t count the big boy out,” Peavy said. “You can’t count this ball club out. They’re going to grind it out and play 27 outs. I know we’re not clicking on all facets of our game but we are certainly grinding it out just as we always have. And you see once again with the big man up in a big situation he comes through.”
Coming in cautiously — and curiously — from third, Jackie Bradley might have been the person with the clearest look at Ortiz’s shot.
“I actually stopped halfway so I could observe, too,” said Bradley, who worked one of his three walks to lead off the eighth and set the stage for Ortiz.
From Bradley’s view, there was never any doubt.
“It looked like it stayed inside [the pole] and then once it got past it, it took a quick right,” Bradley said.
After seeing Ortiz deliver again in the clutch, Bradley said, he got a quick language lesson from his teammates.
“There’s two words that I learned today from some of my Spanish brothers,” Bradley said. “Malo hombre.” He’s a bad man. He is a bad man. Gosh.”