Big Papi's sudden impact

By SETH MNOOKIN  |  July 20, 2006

Watching Ortiz, it’s hard to believe any coaching staff had ever asked him to cut down on his monstrous swings. As big and strong as Ortiz’s upper body is, it’s his lower body that is most impressive. As the ball approaches the plate, his back hip remains stationary, while his front hip closes slightly as he cocks his leg to time his swing. Then, using his flattened front foot as an anchor, he whips his bat through the strike zone in a motion one writer describes as “torquing like a motherfucker.” When Ortiz connects squarely, it is an inspiring sight, perhaps to no one more than the slugger himself: Ortiz admires his clouts in a style Todd Walker once compared to “pimpin’.” Ortiz makes no apologies. “If they don’t like it,” he said of opposing pitchers, “don’t let me hit it out.” The Red Sox didn’t want to see this power go to waste. During Ortiz’s first at-bat during spring training, he came to the plate with a man on first base. He tried to do what he had been taught in Minnesota: move the runner along to second. When he returned to the Red Sox dugout after his at-bat, Grady Little told him, “Hey, you’ve got to bring that guy in.”

“Okay,” Ortiz replied, a smile breaking out on his expansive face. “I guess I’ve got the green light to swing.”

With Jeremy Giambi ahead of Ortiz on the Sox’ depth chart and the emergence of Kevin Millar as Boston’s clutch-hitting mascot, Ortiz didn’t get a chance to build up momentum during the season’s first half. In April and May, he rarely played two full games in a row. Even in June, he only played sporadically.

That pattern was about to change. When Giambi — who, much to everyone’s disappointment, was batting only .173 — landed on the disabled list, Ortiz got his chance. He’d soon emerge as one of the game’s premier power hitters, and one of the best clutch performers in all of sports. Even before becoming a starter, he’d shown a penchant for coming up big when the game was on the line: his first home run of the season was a game-winning blast in the 14th inning of an April 27 game against the Anaheim Angels in which Ortiz had been sent in as a pinch-hitter for Giambi.

By July, Ortiz began to truly show Boston fans what he was capable of. In a July 3 game against the Devil Rays, he hit his fifth home run of the year. The next day, the Sox began a three-game trip to Yankee Stadium. On Friday, July 4, Ortiz, hitting in the sixth spot behind Kevin Millar, smacked a pair of solo home runs in a lopsided, 10–3 Boston win. The next day, he hit two more homers in another easy Boston victory. In three days, he had more than doubled his home run total from the season’s first three months. More — much more — was yet to come.

* Other often-used Ortizisms include, “Shiiiiit,” “Let me tell you something, bro,” and “That’s some fucking bullllllshit.” There’s also his trademark exhortation to reporters at the conclusion of his post-game press conferences: “Now go home and get some ass.”

For more excerpts from Seth Mnookin's Feeding the Monster, visit http://www.sethmnookin.com/monster/index.php

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