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Sports

August 6, 2006

Breaking the Big Papi Code

BOSTON - The story has become the stuff of legend.

It was the night before the seventh and deciding game of the 2004 American League Championship Series, although you wouldn't have been able to tell by seeing David Ortiz.

The affable slugger had learned his lesson the year before when his Red Sox were slated to head into Yankee Stadium for the final showdown of the '03 ALCS. The evening before that game, Ortiz had hunkered down in his hotel room, going to bed early and seemingly leaving nothing to chance. The result was an air of sluggishness that the designated hitter just couldn't shake, lingering all the way through until Aaron Boone ended Boston's season.

But the wee hours of Oct. 19, 2004 were going to be treated differently. Ortiz went out that night, enjoying dinner until the early morning hours at a restaurant in Queens. And when the slugger did decide to the leave the restaurant he was greeted by a group of Yankees fans from his home country, the Dominican Republic.

The heckling began, inferring that Ortiz would never be able to function in a game which was to be played later that same day. The Sox star turned to his audience and proclaimed his intentions.

"I tell you what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm going to hit a home run in my very first at-bat."

The group of Dominicans laughed and yelled, feeling secure in continuing their taunts right through Ortiz's exit. Seventeen hours later, those same hecklers were seen sprinting out of the same restaurant in disbelief. With two outs in the top of the first inning, Ortiz stepped to the plate, saw one pitch from New York starter Kevin Brown, and deposited into the right field stands.

It had to be done, so Ortiz did it. The process was almost mechanical in its execution, and continues to be that way each and every time such a challenge is presented (as exemplified most recently by an eighth-inning, game-winning home run Friday night).

But how? But why?

This has become the questions befuddling those professionals who are supposed to know those types of answers. How is it possible that one player can execute so flawlessly in the kind of situations for which failure is almost expected?

"I'm trying to find the subtle clues because the bottom line for those guys is finding out how they are able to get in that zone," said Red Sox mental performance coach Don Kalkstein. "It's a challenge."

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