His bat flip Tuesday night was classic Papi, a burst of bravado from the mid-2000s. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, “I didn’t care for it . . . I got a young kid on the mound,” referring to his rookie right-hander Hector Noesi. But in truth, David Ortiz’s retro flourish was rather fitting.
Papi is going back to his roots, Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan said, back to wearing out the Green Monster, using the whole field. His two-run homer off Noesi in the fifth inning was a pull job, a vicious shot into the right-field seats. But Magadan noticed a difference even in that homer, which gave the Red Sox their final runs in a 6-4 victory over the Yankees.
“He back-spun that ball to the pull side. That’s something for 2-1/2 years he didn’t really do,” Magadan said. “When he pulled the ball, it was with topspin. But when he’s back-spinning the ball, he doesn’t have to swing as hard. The ball is going to carry.”
This is the old Papi all right, turning back the clock to his glory years: 2004 to ’07, when he averaged 44 home runs, 135 RBI and a 1.024 OPS.
Teams no longer want to pay DHs big money. But if Ortiz keeps this up, the Red Sox will be “stuck” with him again — and not at a pay cut from his $12.5 million salary, either.
Ortiz, since April 30 of last season, has hit 45 home runs and driven in 130 runs in 678 at-bats. This season he’s even crushing left-handers, making the Sox far less vulnerable against that type of pitching.
Remember when Ortiz struggled at the start of last season, snapping at reporters, then going into quiet retreat? Well, he was his old jovial self after Tuesday night’s game, gleefully referring to himself in third person.
“Going to be 95 degrees tomorrow,” Ortiz said to a reporter as he began his group interview. “I don’t mind. The hotter the weather, the hotter Papi get.”
Someone joked about his homer, “It looked like you didn’t know if you had that one.”
“One of the Papi good ones,” Ortiz replied, smiling.
Girardi’s objection to his bat flip?
“It’s not my first time. It’s not going to be my last one,” Ortiz said. “Big deal. I’m a home run hitter. It’s not like I do it all the time.”
The emotion of the moment?
“I just went deep. You want more emotion than that? I just went deep. Just another homer for Papi.”
And counting. Ortiz, 35, is tied for fourth in the AL with 14 homers. He is fourth in the league and first on his team with a .992 OPS. No other primary DH is producing at even close to the same level.
Manny Ramirez is retired. The Orioles’ Vladimir Guerrero and Athletics’ Hideki Matsui are in decline. The Twins’ Jim Thome is on his second DL stint of the season.
The White Sox’s Adam Dunn just got benched. The Yankees’ Jorge Posada is sitting against lefties. Every other primary DH but Billy Butler has an OPS below .800 in the role.
Yet here’s Ortiz, same as he ever was. Even better in some ways.
His strikeout rate is by far the lowest of his career. His .324 batting average would be his second highest. Even on pitches he swings at outside the strike zone, he is making contact 77.9 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs.com.
The difference from last season to this one?
“Patience, man. Patience. Just be patient,” Ortiz said. “I’ve got a lot of good hitters around me. I’ve got to take advantage of that. And just focus on the game. It’s not like I never hit before, you know what I’m saying?”
True, but this is a level beyond. Sox manager Terry Francona said Ortiz is shortening his swing with two strikes. And the big thing — the thing Francona and the Sox appreciate most — is Ortiz’s opposite-field approach against left-handers.
“When your attitude is to use the field against lefties, you’re going to swing at better pitches,” Magadan said. “When you’ve got too much of a pull approach, you tend to chase more. You’re making your decisions sooner.
“When you’ve got a left-center approach against lefties, you’re going to see the break on the slider, the late-moving cutter, the late-moving two-seamer. You’re going to swing at strikes. And when you swing at strikes and you’ve got a really good bat path and are strong, you’re going to do damage.”
Ortiz is doing damage, all right. Damage with an occasional flourish.