ST. LOUIS – The rules of baseball, as cockeyed as they can be at times, say the designated hitter takes a seat when the World Series moves to the National League park. What a dilemma that prompts for the Boston Red Sox as we move to Busch Stadium.
The upshot of it all was a rare sight early Friday evening: David Ortiz, resplendent in his blue toque with the red stripe down the side and red “B” in the front, wearing a glove on his right hand and taking ground balls at first base.
Big Papi is the man in Boston. The series is tied at a win apiece and there’s no way he’s sitting.
Ortiz has gone deep in each of the first two games of the series, the first Red Sox hitter to homer in consecutive games of a Fall Classic since Larry Gardner did it in 1916. He nearly had three long balls, were it not for Carlos Beltran’s snare of his potential grand slam over the right-field wall in Game One.
Ortiz is 4 for 6 in the series while the rest of the Boston order is 8 for 58. He has five homers this postseason, tying the club record. So manager John Farrell confirmed what was plainly obvious here Friday: Ortiz will be in the lineup at first base tonight in Game Three.
“You can only play eight hitters and I guess John wanted me in the lineup,” Ortiz said as he was swarmed by reporters, cameras and boom microphones in the Red Sox dugout. “Whatever they need me for. We’ll see how the situation goes and see how it feels and go from there.”
“David’s bat, at all costs, needs to be in the lineup, and I’m sure John will address that,” said Jake Peavy, tonight’s starter for the Red Sox. “David is a game-changer. He’s as clutch as anybody I can remember playing with or against. It just seems like he has a flair for the dramatic. When the situation is the biggest, he’s at his best. And I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Ortiz played six games in the field this season and seven last year, and also played all four road games there during Boston’s World Series trips in 2004 and 2007. He didn’t make any errors in the previous Series games and looked pretty comfortable out there Friday.
“Nothing he does surprises me. He’s a pretty special guy,” Boston bench coach Torey Lovullo, the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer, told me after hitting some grounders to Ortiz on Friday. “He comes out in spring training once or twice a week to take ground balls and you ask him when the last time he did it was and he goes, “Last interleague.” We’re talking months with no reps at first base and it looks like he’s been there all year.
“He’s very fluid and active. He can move left and right. He understands the game, pays attention. We have no issues putting him over there in these types of games.”
Boston’s issue is that Ortiz and Mike Napoli, who cracked the key three-run double in Game One, have both hit well in the postseason. Napoli hit crucial homers in Games Three and Five of the ALCS against Detroit and was nearly MVP of the World Series two years ago for Texas until the Rangers choked away Game Six here.
Ortiz, however, is the face of the franchise. He has to play. Napoli will sit but provide a huge option off the bench in the late innings and a solid defensive replacement for Big Papi if Boston is protecting a lead.
“When I play first base, I try to keep good communication with Dustin Pedroia and try not to be in his way,” Ortiz said. “He pretty much always tells me before things happen what I should think about doing. There’s not much controversy when I’m playing first base. Hopefully that’s what I’ve got going on.”
Still, it stinks that the Red Sox – or any American League team – has to make this choice. Nobody has given me any good reason why the DH shouldn’t be used for all games of the World Series other than silly tradition. This can be a pretty crippling rule for an AL team that relies on its DH as much as the Red Sox do.
Why not let both teams use the DH all the time? The AL team gets its normal lineup and the NL team will get an added bat in its lineup that it hasn’t had. One team gets a bonus, instead of one team getting hugely penalized.
“Having always been in the American League, I favor it,” Farrell said of the DH. “Obviously it would take the traditional approach toward the National League style game out of it. But, yeah, I would like to see the DH in play.”
“So there’s no question, our bench is going to be more involved in these next three games,” Farrell said. “Even if we have to defend for David late with Mike Napoli, we’ve got much more flexibility with an added guy on the bench.”
The Red Sox need all the offense they can get. The quartet of Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew and Xander Bogaerts has gone 1 for 28 in this series. Since the second inning of Game One, the Sox are just 7 for 53 overall.
The Red Sox are putting Daniel Nava in for Gomes in left field tonight but they’re facing tough odds against a St. Louis team that won 21 of its last 26 at home in the regular season and is 5-1 here in October.
“We certainly have a little bit of a disadvantage, just simply because of the way our roster is constructed as opposed to theirs,” Peavy said. “They’re a National League ball club, and they’re going to play with their normal lineup with the way they were built. Being an American League team, we’re going to miss a huge middle-of-the-lineup bat. … It’s unfortunate that that’s got to happen.”