- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
- 0 Shares
A flicker of recognition crossed Ortiz's face, though you could tell he was searching a bit.
"Yeah," he said.
And why would anyone be asking Ortiz about Morban on such a momentous night, one in which the Red Sox slugger hit two home runs for the second successive game, along with a double, giving him seven hits in the first two games of a three-game set against the Minnesota Twins?
Because on Dec. 16, 2002, the Twins selected Morban in the Rule 5 draft, and to make room for him on their 40-man roster, released David Ortiz the same day.
"For real?" Ortiz asked incredulously.
Morban never played a game for the Twins. He was claimed on waivers by the Orioles and batted .141 with two home runs in 77 plate appearances in 2003. That would be the sum of his big-league career. He drifted to the Indians, Mariners and Rangers as a minor-league free agent before being released a couple of weeks into the '07 season by Texas.
"I remember him," Ortiz said. "Good kid. But have I seen him? Never. Never. Never. He got lost."
Twelve years have passed, a lifetime in baseball. Ortiz has won three World Series rings with the Red Sox, and become a demigod in Boston. Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski came up to the Twins with Ortiz, played with him in Minnesota. Is it possible, Pierzynski was asked, that Ortiz can still see red when he comes here to play?
Pierzynski didn't hesitate. "Absolutely," he said.
Pierzynski remembered Ortiz being hurt a couple of times, breaking his wrist, enduring some knee problems when he was here. But when the Twins released him?
"We couldn't believe it when he got let go," Pierzynski said. "We were like, what? He was kind of the first one of our wave that was gone."
Morban? "The guy who went to the Orioles, I remember that guy," Pierzynski said. "You know what I remember about him. He missed home plate on a play at the plate. True story. LaTroy Hawkins was pitching in Baltimore. We were going to appeal. [Morban] never touched home plate, and he went into the dugout, so they wouldn't let him come back out to touch it.
"I told LaTroy, just get set, step off and throw me the ball. Instead of stepping off, he threw a pitchout. I'm like, 'Oh my god, what are you doing?' We would have been out of the inning."
Jose Morban, David Ortiz. The mind reels. You can imagine how general manager Terry Ryan feels, though Ryan, who is currently recovering from cancer, has long ago issued his mea culpas. Ortiz won't let him forget.
The damage Ortiz inflicts on his former team has reached Heisenberg proportions -- no one is spared. In 13 career games in Target Field, he has nine home runs and 23 RBIs, while batting .528 (28-for-53). The two homers he hit Wednesday night both landed in the second deck of the bleachers.
Since departing Minnesota after the 2002 season, Ortiz is batting .350 (75-for-214) against the Twins, with 18 doubles, 19 home runs, 50 RBIs and 34 walks. His on-base percentage (.440 range) is the highest by any Twins opponent in that span.
"He's in one of those stretches right now," manager John Farrell said, "where obviously he is seeing the ball well, they're throwing pitches on the plate for him, and he's not missing. You think what he's done not only in these two games but the time he has spent in this ballpark, he's in a very rare stretch right now."
Farrell didn't dismiss the idea that Ortiz draws extra motivation from coming here.
"I don't know if you can take that away," Farrell said. "That's certainly a question David can answer more accurately, but there might be a day in the past that sticks in his mind -- when the decision was made to let him go. When you leave an organization that's a memory that doesn't necessarily go away, no matter how that end came about -- roster decision, trade. Thankfully for the Red Sox, he came this way."
Payback? Ortiz tread lightly on the subject Wednesday night.
"I think it's just attitude, how you prepare," he said. "I try to do this every day. They just don't let me."
He laughed when someone asked him about being released "a few years ago."
"A few years ago?" he said. "I can't even remember when that happened. No, man, you've got to play the game the same way against everybody. I come to the field with the same attitude. You're not going to hit like that every day, It's not going to happen.
"If it did, then they're going to treat you like Barry Bonds. That's not good. That's not fun. I don't feel like walking every day."
The Target Field trot, though, he'll take that any time.
The Red Sox and Twins play again Thursday at noon, local time. Shouldn't the manager be giving his 38-year-old slugger a break, with a day game after a night game.
"I think he'd probably fight me to get in the lineup," Farrell said. "We have every intention of him being in the lineup."
Consider yourself forewarned, Minnesota.
Long after being let go by the Twins, David Ortiz is still making them pay.