Ramirez and Ortiz Red Sox's fear factor

The Baltimore Sun

BOSTON-- --Like bottles of champagne and big shiny trophies, emotions, too, have assigned positions in the playoffs. To the victors goes elation. And to the opposing clubhouse go tears. Before we even reach that point, though, there are tiny emotional markers that guide us along the path.

We've seen Field of Dreams, so we've long ago given up on that silly notion that there's no crying in baseball. But there's still one basic emotional tenet that was true a century ago and will remain true a century from now: There's no room for fear.

As the American League Championship Series moves to Cleveland for Game 3 tomorrow, the Red Sox rode strong bats and reliable pitching arms out of New England. And the Indians? They were chased back home with only a short period of time to shake those haunting images of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.

The final score last night didn't matter; the Indians surely went to sleep clutching teddy bears and basking in the glow of night lights -- anything to stave off the nightmares of the middle of that Boston order.

Every couple of innings, Ramirez and Ortiz strode to the plate, dug their spikes in the dirt and looked straight ahead. Sixty feet, 6 inches away, a man with an outdated cartoon caricature on his hat struggled to keep his knees still. It didn't matter whom the Indians pitcher was; whenever Boston's No. 3 and 4 hitters were at the plate, you looked to the mound and heard that Southwest Airlines slogan: Wanna get away?

There were countless examples these first two games, but let's just look at the fifth inning of Game 2. The Indians held a 5-3 advantage, and they decided to yank Fausto Carmona when it was Ortiz's turn to bat. There was no way Carmona was going to have another shot at the Red Sox's rotund designated hitter, who had tied a postseason record in the third inning by reaching base in 10 consecutive plate appearances.

Rafael Perez threw three straight balls to Ortiz before working the count full and getting the slugger to ground into a forceout. Before he could catch his breath, he had an 0-2 count on Ramirez, who promptly blasted a two-run homer to right-center field to tie the game.

Perez was so rattled that three pitches later, he gave up a second homer to Mike Lowell.

Champions welcome challenges. Through the first two games of this series, the Indians have reacted to the mere sight of Ortiz and Ramirez with awe. In Boston's 10-3 win Friday, Ortiz and Ramirez became the first teammates in postseason history to each reach base in all five at-bats.

It's not difficult to see what strikes such fear in the Indians' arms. After Ortiz's first two at-bats last night, he had reached base safely in 18 of 20 plate appearances this postseason. And Ramirez reached base in 14 of his first 20 plate appearances this postseason. His two-run shot in the fifth inning last night was his 23rd postseason homer, moving him past Bernie Williams and atop the all-time list.

The pair feed off each other like few players in the game. Ortiz and Ramirez aren't just playing as well as they have all season; they might be hitting as well as any 3-4 hitters have ever managed in the playoffs. Such a pronouncement isn't because every ball disappears over the fence, but because of how intelligently and patiently they approach each at-bat.

Even when Indians pitchers are ahead in the count, they've been behind in the head.

In Game 1, Ramirez twice strode to the plate with the bases loaded, and he twice fell behind 0-2. And twice he eventually watched ball four float by to force in a run. With a big swinger in a big game, nerves wound tight and behind in the count, it's remarkable to reach a full count a single time. (In fact, in postseason history, no other player has walked with the bases loaded more than once.)

But it only got better.

Amazingly, in the third inning last night, Ramirez again was in the batter's box with the bases loaded. Unlike one night earlier, Carmona didn't bother getting ahead in the count. On four straight pitches, he walked Ramirez to force in the Red Sox's first run.

You ride pitching and defense to get here. You rely on good hitting to win. For most playoff teams, they've won enough games so that performing with confidence is a given. But there aren't a lot of lineups like Boston's, and it's not often that so many parts are clicking at once. As the series moves to Cleveland, you can bet Ortiz and Ramirez will bring their bats.

If the Indians hope to take advantage of their home field, they'd better have left the fear that hampered them in the first two games somewhere back in Boston.


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