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Red Sox DH Ortiz is the definition of true value

Johnny Damon has a bad shoulder and can barely throw. Gabe Kapler blew out his Achilles tendon Wednesday night while -- of all things -- running around the bases on a Tony Graffinino home run. The bullpen is a mess. Curt Schilling's ERA is 6.80. Jason Varitek is 6 for September. Manny Ramirez is being Manny, both good and bad. There's no Pedro Martinez. No Derek Lowe. And somehow, the Red Sox can still dream about going back-to-back come October.12

That's because they have David Ortiz. Big Papi is the best clutch hitter in baseball, and no one else is a close second.

After another game-winning home run Wednesday in Rogers Centre beat the Blue Jays, Ortiz said he's trying to "break the rules" that say a designated hitter can't win a Most Valuable Player award. He's making a pretty good case.

"This is the last ride right here," Ortiz said. "You have to bring everything you have. I've just got to keep playing and doing my job. If people think I deserve it, I'll take it."

Alex Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero, of course, both play the field, although Vlad can be an adventure in right. The MVP award is going to come down to A-Rod and Ortiz, and which team survives the AL East race might tip the scales in that player's favor.

But even though Ortiz rarely plays first base or the outfield anymore, it's hard to fathom the way he's carrying his team in its time of need.

Ortiz has had three game-deciding home runs since Sept. 6. Entering the weekend, 18 of his 42 home runs had tied games or put Boston ahead, with nine of those in the seventh inning or later. In the seventh and beyond, he has 17 homers and 45 RBIs. He has 29 go-ahead RBIs and 45 with two outs.

Ortiz's home run Wednesday was his career-high 42nd of the season and his 38th as a DH, breaking Edgar Martinez's all-time record of 37. Why does Ortiz thrive on the pressure?

"It's not that I like it. I've got no choice," he said. "I just see the situations over and over and over. I have to do something. That's the difference. It's not as easy as it looks, man. I tell you what: I don't get the job done when I'm supposed, I want to kill myself."

"It's unbelievable to have the ability to do what he does with the timing of it all," said Boston manager Terry Francona. "This guy is as valuable as anybody we've seen. That would be very unfair to say just because he's a DH he doesn't deserve (the MVP award)."

Prior to Wednesday's game, Toronto manager John Gibbons wouldn't choose between Ortiz and A-Rod. Afterward, Gibbons was convinced.

"If that's not an MVP, I don't know what is," Gibbons said.

Said Kapler: "We all would like to have a smidgen of what David's got going for him."

> Big mistake

Randy Johnson turned into the Big Mouth at a horrible time for the Yankees on Friday night, getting ejected in the second inning of the 11-10 win over the Blue Jays for arguing balls and strikes.

It was a petulant, selfish move akin to Kevin Brown breaking his hand punching the clubhouse wall last season. Without Johnson, the Yankees were forced to get 7 1/3 innings from their bullpen and use Mariano Rivera for the third straight day. And the 'pen was thus short all weekend in Toronto.

Johnson's season has been a difficult one, beginning when he accosted a New York City cameraman trying to film him walking in Manhattan on the January day he signed his contract. Since the season started, he's had a bad back and often had a bad fastball. Now this. Johnson, who blew off the media Friday, apologized Saturday. How big of him.

"I pitch with emotion and it's part of my game," he said. "I just need to direct it in the right way."

You think?

> Last words on the Herd

* The Yomiuri Shimbun is reporting that Buffalo manager Marty Brown is a top candidate to take over as manager of the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese Central League next season.

Brown, who played for Hiroshima from 1992 to 1994, would be the franchise's first foreign manager in 30 years if he replaces the retiring Koji Yamamoto. He's hoping to get a coordinator job in the Cleveland system, but a chance to be a manager in Japan, a rarity accorded to an American, would probably be too good to pass up.

* Outfielder Jason Cooper was struggling to balance his personal accomplishments (a 100-RBI season) with the team's collapse in the International League semifinals. Cooper was just 1 for 18 in the five-game semifinal loss to Indianapolis and said following last Sunday's finale that it puts a big damper on his season.

"Everybody wants to get it done in the playoffs, and they'd tell you if they could trade a good offensive season for a (championship) ring, they'd do it in a heartbeat," Cooper said. "Especially for the guys who've battled all year, played hurt, whatever it was, it's very disappointing and frustrating."

* What was most frustrating was the offense struggled because Ryan Garko was in Cleveland and the bullpen was left shaky because Andrew Brown was also a September call-up -- but neither of them have appeared in a single game with the Indians over the last two weeks.

Farm director John Farrell tried to put on a happy face about that point, about how the Tribe needed a "first line of defense" from Triple-A to help the big leagues, and about how "it's bittersweet for Buffalo to lose quality players but at the same time it's a great opportunity for those individuals."

Spare me. The Indians continue to do a sensational job with their Triple-A team, but this was a case where logic went out the window. The Tribe had gone 120 games without a No. 3 catcher and all of a sudden decides it needs Garko -- when he hasn't caught a game in a month? Do Indians deep-thinkers really believe they'd put Garko behind the plate or Brown on the mound in, say, the 13th inning of a key September game?

But it sure would have been nice for Buffalo to have Brown in the eighth inning of Game Five rather than trying to get six outs from the shaky tandem of Jake Robbins and Kaz Tadano. Repeating our annual mantra: Call up players when you're going to use them (see Fernando Cabrera and Franklin Gutierrez). Otherwise, leave them alone.

* Bisons fans fretting their team's choke (what else can you call it?) should know they're not alone. The same thing happened in the Pacific Coast League semifinals, as two-time defending champion Sacramento, an Oakland affiliate, won its first two games at Tacoma then dropped the final three at home to end its hopes of a three-peat.

> Around the horn

* Barry Bonds has been thoroughly unimpressive in his return, but Stats Inc. unearthed this statistical gem on Bonds' return: When he struck out swinging in the seventh inning Monday night, it marked the first time he struck out by swinging and missing on three pitches since Aug. 26, 1998, against the Mets' Hideo Nomo in Candlestick Park. Since then, Bonds had walked 668 times.

* The Indians held their breath when center fielder Grady Sizemore face-planted himself into the fence last Sunday catching a drive by Minnesota's Luis Rodriguez. Said General Manager Mark Shapiro: "I was scared. It was like watching a car accident."

* The White Sox are struggling mightily trying to wrap up the AL Central. On Thursday night, the Indians got the margin under five games for the first time since early May. And, they still have six games against the Sox, three beginning Monday in U.S. Cellular Field and the final three of the season in Jacobs Field.

"You've got to remain calm," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "What's the alternative? It's frustrating."

Even if the Sox make the postseason for the first time in five years, you have to wonder if their stay is going to be a short one. Chicago is just 12-20 against its four potential first-round opponents (the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels and Athletics).

* Nationals closer Chad Cordero went into the weekend with 44 saves (a major-league high) in 50 chances, but three of the blown saves have come against the Braves. Monday's 9-7 loss to the Braves, which saw Cordero get torched in the ninth inning by Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, set erratic Washington outfielder Jose Guillen into a rant that his teammates have quit on the wild-card chase.

"Lots of times, you really need guys for motivation, guys trying to help your teammates," Guillen said. "And lots of times, you see a lot of guys, they don't really care. But what can you do? It's a long season, and probably a lot of guys here are tired, probably want to go home."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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