EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 22, 2008

Ortiz easily outduels McCain in Portland

Bill Burt

PORTLAND, Maine — Poor John McCain. Tonight was supposed to be republican presidential hopeful's night in southern Maine. A chance to make a blue state — Maine has voted for a democrat for president in the last four elections — a red one.

But Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, among a handful of the most popular human beings who reside in New England, needed to get some at-bats about five miles to the north at Hadlock Field, home of the Red Sox Double-A affiliate Portland Sea Dogs.

And with Ortiz followed all of the local sportscasters, news anchors and anybody who is anybody in the Portland media contingent.

"Hey, you all are making me feel like the president," said Ortiz, after walking out of the Sea Dogs clubhouse amid a horde of cameras, notebooks, tape recorders and the 50 accompanying reporters.

We all know, though, that his job is a run producer for the Boston Red Sox is much more important to New Englanders, including the 7,000 or so Maine residents here at Hadlock Field, than what McCain is in the vicinity for.

Ortiz probably should be in Seattle with the parent club. They appear to be in one of their all too familiar funks, something an Ortiz eighth-inning homer could fix.

But he says, despite the three homers in three nights in Pawtucket over the weekend, he's not where he feels he needs to be.

"The homers (in Pawtucket) were great," said Ortiz before the game. "But things can change after three games. I want to take a few more pitches."

True to form, take them he did, at least in his first at-bat in the first inning.

Of the six pitches thrown his way, he swung only once at a foul ball that KO'd some guy's nachos (the fan got a standing "O" after retrieving the baseball) about 30 rows behind home plate. The youthful home plate umpire could have called Ortiz out at least two times, instead saving himself from a big-time booing.

In his second at bat, Ortiz saw two balls before rapping the third pitch, a line drive over the shortstop's head for a single. When the Connecticut Defenders pitcher threw over to first to hold Ortiz you'd have thought he threw a fastball at Ortiz's head as boos, followed by chuckles, ensued.

He followed up with a meek pop-up to first and then a flare single over the first baseman's head in the sixth inning before being removed for a pinch runner.

John McCain only could have hoped for an ovation as big as the one Ortiz got as he walked toward the dugout and then after he came out for a curtain call.

Back to Ortiz's stint in Pawtucket. Even more important to him than the home runs were the three check swings he took. He didn't wince for any of them.

"Normally, I don't like check swings," said Ortiz, when asked about his indecisive moments in Rhode Island. "But yes, that showed me something about my wrist. It feels good."

Ortiz will remain here in Portland through tomorrow night, hoping for six to eight more at-bats.

He will join the Red Sox on Friday night (the Sox are off on Thursday) after they return from their West Coast trip against New York.

"The Yankees are always a big deal," said Ortiz to the Maine media contingent. "We have anger management issues (in Boston) to deal with when we're playing the Yankees."

As for the Sox slump on the road and their mini-slump in Anaheim, Ortiz says don't worry.

"We were in first place at the All-Star break," said Ortiz. "We always seem to go through some up-and-down situations. It's not the way you want it to be, but we will be okay."

The highlight of the Ortiz visit didn't happen on the field. It happened soon after his pregame press briefing.

Ortiz headed into the clubhouse door about 10 feet away and one reporter, appearing to break the rules, followed him in and began asking him questions.

The impromptu questioner was Sea Dogs reliever Beau Vaughn, who was dressed on the nerdy side, catching Ortiz off guard.

About five seconds into the question, the dozen or so players nearby broke out into laughter. When Ortiz realized he'd been had, he chuckled with them.

Overall, it was a win-win night for Ortiz and Portland. He is a day closer to joining the Red Sox lineup and Portland got a first-hand glimpse at one of New England's most popular people.

As for Senator McCain, if he didn't miss it already, his big night in Portland will have to wait a few more days.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

Ortiz's at-bats in Portland

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is spending three days in Portland preparing for his return to Fenway Park on Friday night against the New York Yankees. Here is a rundown of his at-bats in the first of those three games last night at Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine:

First at-bat

Ortiz looked at six of the seven pitches, eventually walking on a 3-and-2 count. True to form, before the game he said one of the reasons he is continuing his rehab assignment was to see more pitches.

Second at-bat

After two balls, Ortiz lined a single over the shortstop's head to left center.

Third at-bat

On a 1-1 count, Ortiz popped up meekly to first base.

Fourth at-bat

On a 1-1 count, after swinging for the fences on a foul ball, Ortiz hit a flare over the first baseman's head and just in front of the right fielder. He was removed for a pinch-hitter.