Papi, Lackey, Napoli + Pedey = Victory No. 1
April, 3, 2014
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com
BALTIMORE -- Takeaways from the first Red Sox win of 2014, in which cell phone pitchman David Ortiz revealed who sponsored his first home run ("The Sox. They pay for it with a lot of money"), John Lackey stayed true to form after proving a true son of Texas (Did you see the pose he struck in front of President Bush's White House portrait that was uncannily similar to W's?), Mike Napoli showed he still has a knack for fast starts with a home run and four RBIs, and Dustin Pedroia has become so routinely spectacular afield, his manager pretends not to notice ("We don't even bother to high-five him anymore," John Farrell said dryly).
It was Red Sox 6, Orioles 2 Wednesday night in the House That Lucchino Built, where Ortiz's 432nd career home run placed him one ahead of Lord Baltimore, Cal Ripken Jr., in 45th on the all-time list.
"I was tied with the Iron Man? That's crazy," Ortiz said.
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesDavid Ortiz sent his spring training struggles into the distant past with a two-run blast Wednesday.
The people who were wondering whether Ortiz might ever hit another home run in spring training -- he had two hits in March, one a home run -- are now inquiring whether Ortiz has designs on registering for membership in the 500-homer club.
"Still playing," Ortiz said. "There are chances. Seems like that's the magic number for everybody. So we'll see. Not thinking about that. Just trying to have fun playing the game."
Ortiz hit a 1-1 fastball into the flag court beyond the right-field fence for a two-run, third-inning home run off Ubaldo Jimenez, the Dominican right-hander who was one of two late-winter splash signings made by Orioles general manager Dan Duquette, who gave Jimenez four years and $50 million to lead a young pitching staff.
So far, Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, Baltimore's other big signing (one year, $8 million), are tied in home runs with two. Cruz has homered in each of Baltimore's first two games, while Jimenez gave up two in six innings -- the other a Napoli mashball to dead center on an 0-2 fastball right over the middle.
That home run gave Lackey a 4-2 lead, and Napoli sealed the deal after Orioles manager Buck Showalter elected to walk Ortiz to load the bases and face the Sox cleanup man, who lined a two-run single to left off Orioles reliever Ryan Webb.
Somewhere, we suspect, it was written on the Orioles' advance scouting report that Napoli is money with the bases loaded: He led the majors with 31 bases-loaded RBIs, which also were the most for a Sox player since Vern Stephens had 32 in 1950.
"He did it all year last year," Ortiz said. "Doesn't surprise me."
For a Florida native, Napoli seems unaffected by April's colder climes. He set club records with 13 doubles and 18 extra-base hits last April, when he drove in 27 runs, and has a double, home run and 4 RBIs so far this season.
"It's going to happen," Napoli said of Ortiz being bypassed in favor of him. "They're not going to give in to him. I had a taste of it last year. I used to really get amped for it, but I was able to stay calm and just get the job done."
For a job well done, Lackey finished no worse than first runner-up, though Pedroia provided strong competition with four hits, all singles, and two runs scored, giving him six hits in the first two games.
Joy R. Absalon/USA TODAY SportsJohn Lackey's success stemmed from pinpoint command of his fastball.
He also made a play in Game 2 that is liable to be seen on year-end highlight lists, smothering J.J. Hardy's smash just to the left side of second base, and somehow summoning enough on his off-balance throw from one knee to nip Hardy at first.
"That actually helped me -- when I dove, my knee stuck in the ground so I could just spin and throw it as hard as I can, and Nap dug it out," Pedroia said.
Lackey relied on what he called some "country hardball" in the early going, content to pump fastballs with pinpoint location at a quick tempo set by catcher A.J. Pierzynski, which the pitcher liked. He faced 22 batters in his six innings, throwing first-pitch strikes to 19 of them. He tried to waste an 0-and-2 fastball to Cruz, but didn't get it far enough outside, with Cruz muscling it just over the right-field wall with a man aboard in the fourth, tying the score at 2.
"The way it was coming out of his hand, it was as good as I've seen him," said Pierzynski, who shared a paper cup of victory after the game with Lackey. "He was putting it right where he wanted to, so there was no plan about anything. John goes into it with four pitches, so you kind of go from there, but the way he spotted the fastball, it was hard not to have him throw it.
"The best pitch in baseball is a well-located fastball, and if you can do that and throw it successfully, you're going to have a nice run here."
Lackey won 10 games last season, a number that could have been markedly higher with better run support -- the Sox scored just 3.7 runs per start in his 29 starts. Then again, they scored over six runs a game for him in 2011, when he was both injured and awful, so maybe these things have a way of evening out.
He had no complaints Wednesday.
"I'm not going to the Hall of Fame, fellas," Lackey said. "I don't really care about wins. I'm going out there to try to help the boys win."