When David Ross plays, it’s usually because of his defense, and while that is still true, he will be the Red Sox’ catcher in Game 6 of the World Series Wednesday night at Fenway Park because he’s just as hot at the plate than he is behind it.
With the Sox hitting .205 in the Series against Cardinals pitching, Ross, who had two hits including the game-winner in Game 5, is being viewed as an offensive upgrade probably for the first time in his career.
Ross is 3 for 12 (.250) in the Series with six strikeouts, but he came on in Game 5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is 0 for 6 in the Series with four strikeouts and made a key throwing error in Game 3.
“First of all, David has given us a spark offensively and that’s no disrespect to Salty in any way,” said manager John Farrell. “We’ve had to jump-start a couple of different positions from an offensive standpoint. And at the same time David has done a great job with the running game from a game-calling perspective.”
The Sox need one more offensive surge from their struggling lineup, which has produced enough to go ahead, three games to two, in the Series but has hit .151 if you take away David Ortiz’s 11 for 15. The Sox have a woeful .585 OPS and .268 on-base percentage, and they have scored 21 runs on 33 hits with only 11 for extra bases, including three home runs.
There’s no other way to explain this other than to point to the elite pitching that has taken over a Series in which the teams are hitting a combined .212. Both sides have tried lineup changes and shifting in the order to no avail.
The Red Sox will get Mike Napoli, who was benched in St. Louis because of the no-DH rule, with the Sox having to use Ortiz at first base, and Shane Victorino, who has been dealing with a back issue, back in their lineup. Farrell will go with his good-luck charm, Jonny Gomes, in left field against the tough Michael Wacha, who is brutal on lefties with his changeup.
It behooves the Red Sox to go all-out to win Game 6 because the projected Game 7 pitching matchup of Jake Peavy vs. the Cardinals’ Joe Kelly doesn’t seem to favor Boston.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has got to find a way to limit the damage of Ortiz, who has been walked intentionally only once and has drawn four total walks in 20 plate appearances.
“If you know of something, I’m all ears,” said Matheny. “But so far we’ve been trying to pitch him differently. You have to realize it’s not just a hot hitter, it’s a good hitter. It’s one that has been proven over time to be able to step up and really make a good run and put together a consistent approach. So we respect that and understand that. We also understand when our guys are making pitches and we’re doing what we’re trying to do, we can get anybody out. But right now we can’t deny that this guy is extremely hot.”
While Ortiz downplays the fact that he’s the only hot Sox hitter, looking up and down the lineup, one doesn’t see any other eye-popping averages.
“I’m not the only one hitting,” Ortiz said after the Sox’ workout Tuesday. “I have one RBI and we won, 3-1, last night. We have a lot of guys coming through at the right time and that’s all that matters. I’ve been hitting well, but it’s not like, ‘Here Papi, hit it.’ They’ve been pitching me careful, but I’ve been able to put a good swing on the ball and come through. We have plenty of hitters capable of doing some damage and come through.”
Assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez said, “We need to score one more run than they do. That’s what we need right now.”
John Lackey, the Sox’ Game 6 starter, spoke at a news conference about the situation he faced with the Angels against Barry Bonds and the Giants in the 2002 World Series.
“We walked Barry a lot more than David has been walked,” Lackey said. “I think that speaks to the guys who we’ve got hitting behind David. We’ve got some good players. I can remember a couple of times in ’02 intentionally walking Barry and the first pitch to Benito [Santiago] hooked me up with a couple of ground balls for double-play balls. Those were pretty big. I remember that.”
Bonds was walked intentionally seven times in the 2002 Series, which the Angels won in seven games. He walked 13 times in all in 30 plate appearances. Angels manager Mike Scioscia walked him three times in Game 4.
In this World Series, Ortiz has been Bonds, who in the ’02 Fall Classic was 8 for 17 with four homers, a 1.994 OPS, and an OBP of .700.
So maybe the answer for the Cardinals is don’t pitch to Ortiz.
There was a situation in Game 5 in the first inning in which Matheny could have walked Ortiz and chose not to, and Ortiz lashed an RBI double.
But the Red Sox would not be in select company if they won a World Series with a lousy offensive showing.
The 1918 Red Sox won a six-game series against the Cubs by hitting .186 to the Cubs’ .210. The 1930 Philadelphia A’s hit .197 in a six-game series win over the Cardinals. The 1948 Indians hit .199 in a six-game series win over the Boston Braves.
In more modern times, the 1962 Yankees defeated the Giants, four games to three, with a .199 average. In 1966, the Orioles swept the Dodgers with a .200 average. In 1967, in a seven-game series, the Cardinals (.223) defeated the Red Sox (.216). In 1971, in a seven-game series, the Pirates (.235) defeated the Orioles (.205). In 1972, in seven games, the A’s beat the Reds, each team hitting .209.
In 1983, in a five-game series, the Orioles (.213) defeated the Phillies (.195). In 1996, in six games, the Yankees (.216) defeated the Braves (.254). In 2006, in a five-game series, the Cardinals (.228) defeated the Tigers (.199). There are many other examples.
The Cardinals are hitting .218 in this World Series, 51 points lower than their season average, on a team that had four .300-plus hitters and Carlos Beltran at .296.
The Cardinals now will revert back to having the DH, which means the hobbling Allen Craig is in the lineup as the hitter and big Matt Adams likely will play first base.
So both teams will have offensive reinforcements, but so far it’s been the Ortiz/Matt Holliday Show.
The Cardinals cannot let Ortiz beat them, so their solution may very well be giving him the Barry Bonds treatment.
The Red Sox need more contributions from hitters not named Ortiz.
If they get them, there will be a party of epic proportions in and around the The Fens.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.