July 25, 2022 [LINK / comment]

Cooperstown welcomes Big Papi, and six others

The man who played the lead role in putting an end to the "curse of the Bambino" in 2004, lifting the Boston Red Sox to the heights of glory, was inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, New York yesterday. David Ortiz ended his career with 541 home runs, just ahead of Mickey Mantle (536) on the all-time list, with 1,768 RBIs and a .286 batting average. He was elected (back in January) by the Baseball Writers Association of America, with 77.9% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. No other players on this year's ballot reached the 75% cutoff line, but six others from decades past were chosen by the "Era Committees"; see below. (See www.washingtonpost.com.)

Ortiz was born in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, on November 18, 1975, and was signed by the Seattle Mariners as an amateur free agent in 1992 -- age 17! Four years later he was traded to the Minnesota Twins, where he played for six seasons, partial and full: 1997-2002. He racked up a total of 58 home runs during that time, barely hinting at what was to come. In January 2003 he signed with the Red Sox and hit 31 home runs that year, helping Boston get to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1990. During his 14 years with the Red Sox he hit 483 home runs, or 34.5 per year. Amazingly, he hit more homers in each of his last four years than in the year before: 30, 35, 37, and finally 38. See baseball-reference.com. Stocky and muscular, he was the archetypical designated hitter, very few of whom have made it to Cooperstown. I saw him play in exactly one game: August 1, 2009 against the Orioles in Baltimore, which the visiting team won, 4-0. Ortiz doubled that day but did not score. The next time I saw the Red Sox, in a 2017 spring training game, he was already gone.

For those who may have forgotten, the New York Yankees had won the first three games in the 2004 American League Championship Series, including a 19-8 shellacking of the Red Sox in Fenway Park in Game 3. The situation appeared utterly hopeless for the home team in Game 4. After the Red Sox tied the game 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, Ortiz came up to bat in the bottom of the 12th and hit a two-run homer to win the game. Jubilation in Bean Town! The following night, the Red Sox once again overcame a deficit to tie the game 4-4 in the late innings, and with two outs and runners on first and second in the bottom of the 14th, Ortiz hit a line drive single to center field for his second walk-off triumph in two nights. Simply incredible. Of course, the Red Sox grabbed the momentum and never looked back, as Ortiz homered in the top of the first inning of Game 7 in Yankee Stadium, and the rest is history. (See my October 18, 2004 and October 21, 2004 "post facto" blog posts, as well as the Postseason scores page.)

Of note, Ortiz became a free agent after the 2011 season and signed a one-year contract extension with the Red Sox, getting a pay hike of about $2 million (roughly 17%) -- from $12,500,000 to $14,575,000. A year later, they went through the same thing, and he actually received an initial pay cut to $14,000,000, following by one-million dollar raises in the two subsequent years. (See the above baseball-reference.com link.) It is interesting to contrast what Ortiz was getting paid with certain superstar players of recent years, such as Manny Machado or Juan Soto. Big Papi's devotion to Red Sox fans and to Boston in general was best exemplified when he spoke to the Fenway faithful a few days after the deadly terrorist attack during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2003: "This is our f*cking city!" His love for the city was emphatically reciprocated, as suggested in this photo I took during the final year of his career:

As his career was about to come to a close, a large billboard across the street paid tribute to David Ortiz. (See the original September 16, 2016 blog post.)

The "Eras" Committee (formerly called the "Veterans Committee") also elected the following players to the Hall of Fame, the first (Fowler) and last (O'Neil) being chosen for their contributions to the sport as "pioneers" who promoted baseball in African-American communities:

The teams shown here are the ones for which the respective players are primarily known, and the years pertain to those teams.
+ = also played for other team(s)
* = interrupted by military service

The main entrance of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame (and Museum), in Cooperstown, New York, which I visited earlier this month.

Nationals avert sweep by D-Backs

It wasn't pretty, as the Nationals committed three errors and flubbed multiple scoring opportunities, but a combination of timely hitting and solid relief pitching late in the game were just enough to tip the balance in Washington's favor on Sunday afternoon in Phoenix. After lopsided defeats at the hands of the Diamondbacks on Friday (10-1) and Saturday (7-2), the Nats kept a close margin until they tied it on an usual play in the top of the seventh inning. With a runner on first base and two outs, Josh Bell smashed a ball that landed just in front of the fence in the right field corner, and it bounced up and then backwards into foul territory as Cesar Hernandez crossed home plate. The umpire initially called it a ground-rule double which would have put the runner back on third base, probably keeping the D-Backs ahead, but after further review, the run counted. That was huge. One inning later, Lane Thomas managed to stretch a long single to left-center field into a double, and then Keibert Ruiz batted him in with a clutch single to right field. With Juan Soto's fate being so uncertain right now, it is Thomas and Ruiz who are expected to anchor this young, struggling team for the immediate future, and they sure came through on Sunday.

[Humorous note: After D-Backs pitcher Madison Bumgarner (the former Giant!) called Nats outfielder Victor Robles a "clown" for pausing to admire the solo home run he hit in the eighth inning on Saturday night, Robles wore a red clown nose in the dugout before the game on Sunday. smile That may have boosted the Nats' team morale just a little bit.]

Tonight the Nationals (32-65) begin a three-game series against the Dodgers (64-30) in Los Angeles, and it would take a minor miracle for them to win even one of those games. Paulo Espino is starting tonight, and Josiah Gray starts against his former team tomorrow night. Given that at least some of their best players are expected to be traded during the next two weeks, and that they are 14 games behind the fourth-place Miami Marlins, it is a virtual certainty that the Nats will end the season in last place for the third year in a row. (They shared that "dishonor" with the Marlins in 2021.) The Nationals have only a slim chance of rising to the .400 "threshhold of respectability" by the end of the season, and all they can realistically hope for is to finish ahead of at least one other team, such as the Oakland A's or the Cincinnati Reds.

Whereas the Nats pitching rotation was on quite a hot streak one month ago, they have all struggled of late. Only Josiah Gray has been credited with a win this month, while Patrick Corbin and Erick Fedde have been tagged for multiple losses. The newly-added starters, Paolo Espino and Anibal Sanchez, are somewhere in between. The promising young Jackson Tetreault has a stress fracture of his right scapula that may or may not take a long time to heal. There is no chance of Stephen Strasburg returning this year, and closing pitcher Tanner Rainey is likewise in doubt for the next several weeks.

Winning & losing streaks

The L.A. Dodgers have won eight in a row, leading the majors in that regard. The Toronto Blue Jays have won six in a row, while the Houston Astros have won five. After winning 14 games in a row before the All-Star break, the Seattle Mariners lost three straight games against the Houston Astros at home in T-Mobile Park. On the down side, the Boston Red Sox have lost five in a row, and are in danger of falling behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East standings.