ANAHEIM -- This has gone well beyond slight adjustments, pitching trends or worries about well-placed fielders.
David Ortiz has reached one of -- if not the -- low point of his career as a Red Sox. And it is going to take more than simple video analysis to prevent things from going even deeper.
"Sorry guys, I don't feel like talking right now," Ortiz said calmly after the Red Sox' 5-4, 12-inning loss to the Angels on Thursday at Angel Stadium. "Just put down 'Papi stinks.'"
The impetus for such self-analysis was a day in which Ortiz went 0 for 7 while stranding 12 baserunners, which ties a team mark initially set by Trot Nixon on June 12, 2003. It contributed to a day in which the Red Sox as a team stranded 17 runners and went 3 for 23 with runners in scoring position.
And if the results weren't confidence-shaking enough, then Ortiz' final at-bat certainly contributed its fair share of psychological damage. With the bases loaded and two outs in the 12th inning, the Sox' No. 3 hitter would only offer a check swing dribbler out in front of the mound, resulting in the end of the Sox' best, and final, threat.
In this well-documented slump in which Ortiz has found himself, one which has the designated hitter batting .208 with not a single home run, this was the strongest punctuation yet.
"I know he feels it," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who was ejected in the 10th inning for arguing balls and strikes. "He's pressing. He's trying too hard. Everything. It was a rough day for him."
Even before the oh-fer, this thing had burrowed itself into Ortiz' psyche. The first sign was the media briefing the DH performed before the first game of the series in which he admitted to thinking about his homer-less streak morning, noon, and night.
When told about Ortiz bearing his soul, one of the slugger's best friends, Angels outfielder Torii Hunter shook his head and said, "Man, I wish he wouldn't talk that way."
A day later Ortiz was not only fighting off the worries that came with being hit in the same wrist that sidelined him a year ago, but his perception that bad karma was following him after a slight adjustment in his wrist band had allowed for the Darren Oliver pitch to find an unprotected patch of skin.
Hunter was right, his friend probably shouldn't have been talking that way. But Ortiz couldn't help it. He can't stop thinking about this slump. It was why he could be found hunkered in front of two laptops prior to Thursday's game, breaking down the good and bad of his swing, and why he said "Papi stinks" following a three-game series in which he went 1 for 14 with no walks and four strikeouts.
Ortiz isn't right, which was something we probably could have surmised even without Thursday's performance. But because of the final image of Ortiz sprinting down the first base line, trying to beat catcher Jeff Mathis' throw, we learned a bit more on this sunny, Southern California afternoon ... along with some other things in the Sox' fifth consecutive series loss to the Angels.
THERE IS HOPE FOR ORTIZ
Players understand the ebb and flow of a major league baseball season, and that is why, as frustrating as Ortiz' failure to produce Thursday was, they know it can still turn in a hurry.
They know because many of them have walked in similar shoes as Ortiz.
"We're pulling for him, obviously," said Red Sox' second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "We're hoping the corner is right there and he's going to turn it. Everyone goes through stuff like this, I definitely have been through something like that. We're pulling for him."
Pedroia knows of what he speaks. In 2007 he had the much-publicized introduction to life as a big-league starter in which he was hitting .180 on May 3. But then came something as subtle as hitting coach Dave Magadan's suggestion that he move his head into a more upright position and the result was a two-hit day off Johan Santana and a .415 month of May.
That was it, just a tilt of the head. It's the kind of elixir Ortiz is still looking for.
"It's tough," said Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo, one of Ortiz' closest friends on the team. "When you're struggling, everything goes wrong. You're always 0-1, 0-2, things like that. I thought he took some good swings today. He's going to come around."
There were moments when it looked like that "corner" of which Pedroia spoke wouldn't be presenting itself any time soon. The first inning strikeout, another punch-out in the fourth with the bases loaded. Another strikeout in the sixth with Pedroia at second. And, of course, that 12th-inning at-bat.
But there was one swing that looked for a second to be the one Ortiz has been searching for all season. It came in the eighth inning with two outs and runners on first and third. The Sox' DH jumped on the first pitch he saw from Scot Shields and launched it onto the warning track in left field.
The ball would have been certainly out of Fenway Park, and appeared for a moment to have enough to get out of Angel Stadium. But it wasn't to be, as Juan Rivera hauled in the fly ball for the inning's final out.
"Of course, we need David to get going," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "And I believe he will."
TWO GUYS DID FIND WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING FOR
For a team to strand 17 runners on base, there have to be batters reaching base. In this case, it was Pedroia and Lugo who made sure of that.
Lugo had five hits (the fourth time in his career he has managed the feat), while Pedroia totaled four. Besides Jacoby Ellsbury (2 hits), they were the only Red Sox to finish with multiple-hit days.
For Lugo, who also made a stellar leaping play on an Erick Aybar liner in the fourth inning, it continued a positive offensive trend since he returned from rehab on his surgically-repaired right knee. The shortstop is now hitting .349.
"I feel good man, I feel real good," Lugo said. "I'm seeing the ball very good. I'm feeling comfortable right now ... You still enjoy it. Not as much as if we had won. It's a performance that sometimes it goes out of sight because we lost."
For Pedroia, the performance was notable considering he hadn't had an at-bat since the third inning of Sunday night's game against Tampa Bay. But when it was all said and done, the second baseman had his third game of four hits or more this season, and eighth contest in which he totaled as many as three (both tops in the majors).
"The first at-bat it helps when you swing, break your bat and it falls in there for you," said Pedroia, who is now hitting .336. "I think my first at-bat my timing was off, but then I saw a lot more pitches the rest of the day and that helped me out a little bit."
And while he was able to perform on his previously strained right groin without incident ("There was nothing holding me back. Running was fine. Everything was fine"), Pedroia's final two at-bats left somewhat of a sour taste in his mouth.
First was Pedroia's 10th-inning shot into deep center, on which Gold Glover Torii Hunter made the catch of the series, racing back and sticking up his glove at the very last moment to prevent what would have been the go-ahead run.
"Yeah," said Pedroia when asked if he thought it was over Hunter's head. "Shoot, that's why he's the best in the game. There's no surprise about that. He made a great play and saved the game for them. It was an unbelievable play."
And then came just Pedroia's 12th strikeout of the season, with the Sox' No. 2 hitter swinging and missing with the bases loaded in the 12th, leading into Ortiz's final at-bat. Just for reference sake, Pedroia has swung and missed at just 8.7 percent of his offerings this season, 11th-best in the big leagues.
THE SOX OUTFIELDERS WERE BUSY
Just in case you cared, Red Sox pitchers allowed 38 fly balls during this series, the fourth-most of any team in the majors during the three-day period. Thursday, there were 16 fly balls, trailing only Milwaukee's 17 when it came to the most in the bigs.
But not only were there plenty of chances for the outfielders, but many supplied some of the game's biggest moments.
"There are those days you have balls hit to you," Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay said, "and there are days you have balls hit to you."
Some weren't within the Red Sox' grasp, as Ellsbury could attest to while tracking shots to the center field wall. Twice the Sox' speedster came up just short on drives to the fence, resulting in two of the Angels' three triples on the day.
The second of Ellsbury's missed chances, a fly ball off the bat of Bobby Abreu in the eighth inning, paved the way for the most successful play of the game for a Sox' outfielder. With Hunter batting and Abreu at third with one out, and the visitors' infield playing in, the LA batter lofted a fly ball into very shallow right-center field.
With Ellsbury shading toward left-center, and Pedroia playing on the edge of the infield grass, both the center fielder and right fielder J.D. Drew had quite a ways to go to track down the Hunter pop fly. But, just as Ellsbury was getting ready to attempt a sliding grab, Drew swooped in, made the out and proceeded to throw a one-hopper to Varitek without breaking stride, nailing Abreu at the plate.
"I knew I was in position to make a play on it but I didn't know if Ellsy would beat me to the ball or not." explained Drew. "It was in the air for a long time so I thought somebody would come down with it, it just worked out that I was able to call him off at the last minute and I had to get rid of the ball as quick as I could in that position because you don't have time to stop and set your feet and all that stuff.
"I think it was a smart play. I was talking to Mikey Lowell about it. It was one of those situations where I'm full speed running trying to make a play, and throw on the run. I almost didn't get enough on the throw but it worked out well. i was able to keep it on line. That's not a practice play right there. You don't do that very often. You just get rid of the ball, get a good hop for Tek and it worked out well."
If nothing else, it legitimized Drew's claim of two days before that he, at one time, actually ran a 40-yard dash of under 4.5 seconds.
"He can move a little bit," observed Ellsbury.
THE UMP WASN'T A FAVORITE OF THE SOX
Bottom line: The Red Sox weren't happy with the way home plate umpire Bill Miller was calling balls and strikes. It was why Red Sox manager Terry Francona became the first member of the Sox to be ejected this season, getting the heave-ho for arguing a call to Lugo in the 10th inning.
Another bottom line: It wasn't why the Red Sox lost the game.
"There were a few questionalbe calls but it's not the umpire's fault we left 17 guys on base," said Bay. "I think that was just kind of a side note. Everyone has their own interpretation, I just thought that ball was outside. We've moved on."
One member of the Red Sox who didn't seem to find Miller's judgment was starting pitcher Brad Penny, who not only walked a season-low one batter, but weaved his way in and out of the strike zone well enough to go six innings (6 1/3 this time out) for the fifth time in seven starts.
The righty allowed four runs on seven hits, tossing 61 of his 97 pitches for strikes.
"I had good command of my fastball," said Penny, whose ERA stands at 6.69. "My offspeed wasn't as good as I would have liked it, but I competed today."
GREEN, BALDELLI ARE AT THE READY
For now, Nick Green is your backup first baseman.
Green, who subbed in for Mike Lowell at third base after pinch-running on Thursday, has played exactly one inning at first base as a major leaguer, and it was that lone frame — coming with the Yankees in a game against the Red Sox in 2006 — that served as the very first time in the infielder’s life that he played the position.
Green entered the game in the ninth inning with New York holding a 14-10 lead. He had two chances, a pop up off the bat of Mark Loretta, and then a Wily Mo Pena grounder which he fielded and flipped to Mariano Rivera for the final out of the game.
“First pitch was a fly ball to me,” Green remembered. “Got a fly ball and a ground ball. (Jason) Giambi had to come out for some reason so they asked me if I could play first and then just threw me out there. The thing I learned from that experience is that I can catch it and throw it, but as long as I’m aware of where I am on the field I should be alright.”
Green had used Andy Phillips’ glove that day, but decided to get his own first baseman’s mitt after the experience. Unfortunately for the utility infielder, his first-ever specialty glove was stolen just as he was getting used to it, forcing him to break in the one he currently possesses. As far as actually using it, Green credits his work with former Red Sox manager Jimy Williams even before making that Aug. 18, 2006, appearance at Fenway Park.
(That, by the way, was the same day Jon Lester experienced a Storrow Drive car crash, which led him to the examination that revealed he had cancer.)
It wasn’t the first time Green was thrust into playing a new position for the first time. Back on Aug. 15, 2004, while playing with the Atlanta Braves, Green got his first introduction to being an outfielder when he came on for Drew. In that one inning he had to borrow Drew’s outfielder’s glove.
Another player getting used to a new role is Rocco Baldelli, who turned in a solid swing when pinch-hitting for Drew in the ninth, lining a single into right field.
Baldelli came into the game just 3 for 19 as a pinch-hitter for his career -- and 0 for 1 with a strikeout this season -- but clearly has picked up some confidence in the role after executing it more often over the last two seasons.
"It's never easy, but the more you get out there and do it the more comfortable you get. It's nothing you can ever master," said Baldelli, who was called on to face Angels' closer Brian Fuentes after Drew (0 for 4, 3 strikeouts against the lefty) told Francona he didn't see the ball well off Fuentes. "It's just something you try to do the best you can at and hope for the best. I think I'm definitely more comfortable doing it now than I was last year."