David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - David Ortiz can’t call it quits fast enough for the Yankees. But after torturing his old pals again Friday night, this time by taking Dellin Betances over the Green Monster in the eighth inning to deliver a 4-2 comeback win for the Red Sox, we won’t believe this is truly a farewell tour until Big Papi confirms it six months from now.
“That’s going to happen,” Ortiz said, smiling. “I’m going to try to enjoy my retirement. If I get bored, I’ll just call the Red Sox and tell them to activate me again.”
Ortiz, at age 40, looks capable of hitting home runs for another decade, at least. Fortunately for the Yankees, his knees won’t allow him to stick around quite that long. The Sox do hold a $10-million option for 2017 if both sides change their mind, and who says no if Ortiz has another 30-homer season?
In what began as a relatively sedate night at Fenway, with a first-pitch temperature of 47 degrees and a half-empty ballpark, Ortiz injected some much-needed energy into this sagging rivalry – with an assist from buddy Alex Rodriguez, who hammered an impressive solo homer off the light tower in left-centerfield.
A-Rod received his first round of welcoming boos leading off the second inning and then obliterated an 87-mph fastball from Sox lefty starter Henry Owens. The shot traveled an estimated 425 feet, and Rodriguez’s second homer in as many days really wasn’t all that surprising, considering that it came on the Fenway stage.
But Ortiz is the one that usually gets to apply the finishing blow when these two teams square off, and he did so in dramatic fashion. With the score tied at 2, and one out in the eighth inning, Ortiz jumped on a first-pitch breaking ball for his 48th career home run against the Yankees, including 14 that have put the Sox ahead.
“If you had told me 10 years ago that Big Papi and I would be hitting homers at 40, I probably would have laughed,” Rodriguez said. “He’s unbelievable. I don’t have anything else to say.”
What made Papi’s feat even more incredible was the pitcher he victimized. Betances had been nearly untouchable, with 22 of his last 27 outs coming on Ks. Ortiz was 0-for-7 against him, with four strikeouts, and knew full well how difficult this eighth-inning showdown would be.
But Ortiz studied how Betances fed Mookie Betts a diet of breaking pitches before him, and figured he might get the same. Ortiz also got a little lucky when Betances hung that pitch just enough to a spot where he could drive it hard.
“I made up my mind,” Ortiz said. “The one that I hit stayed up a little longer than usual. He’s a tough guy to hit. Finally, I got one.”
A big one at that. The Yankees arrived at Yawkey Way reeling, at 8-12 and residing in the basement of the American League East. But with the help of A-Rod and Masahiro Tanaka, who pitched six scoreless, they were on the verge of turning things around, if only for a night. Tanaka turning the ball over to Betances – even with the score tied – should have kept them alive for a little longer.
And in any other place, against any other hitter, it probably would have worked. But not against Ortiz, and not in his backyard. This was the nightmare scenario, facing Big Papi in a clutch situation.
“We’re playing at home, you know how the adrenaline is flying all over the place when you’re playing the Yankees,” Ortiz said. “When something like this happens, you really enjoy it.”
The Yankees? They’re grown to really, really hate it. Among their fan base, there is no more despised villain than Big Papi, and he came through Friday night with another kick to the gut. The home run was his eighth in the last 24 games against the Yankees. Before Friday, the last time he hit a go-ahead homer as late as eighth inning also was against them, a year ago, in the 16th inning off Esmil Rogers.
“That was a great game,” Ortiz said. “Both teams played their [butts] off. If I’m a Yankee fan, I’d be happy with what I saw.”
They won't be happy until he's gone.