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Boston's Big Papi keys the big rally

BOSTON — David Ortiz smacked hands with Carl Crawford by the batting cage Thursday and glowered down at him.

"How can you get five hits in one game?" he bellowed, referring to the leftfielder's Game 4 output for the Rays.

"Big Papi" turned to Rays catcher Dioner Navarro, held up one finger, then burst into laughter. "I'm fighting for one (expletive)."

He got one later Thursday night. A big one. Ortiz's booming three-run homer off reliever Grant Balfour powered a four-run inning and ignited a comeback that brought the Red Sox back from a seven-run seventh-inning deficit to an 8-7 victory in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series. It might have brought them back in the ALCS, as the best-of seven series shifts to Tampa Bay. Boston still trails three games to two.

Rays manager Joe Maddon saw it all coming before the game, even though the slugger had one hit the entire series. Maddon said before the game there was no "huge different schematic" to pitching against Ortiz, who is a career .304 hitter with 34 home runs against the Rays in the regular season.

"We're just lucky," Maddon said. "We're pitching as we think is the right way to go about it, but I don't take anything for granted.

"You don't want to let your guard down. … But this guy, he can do anything on any given night, and I don't trust him in that regard because he's that good."

Ortiz is not questioned in the defending world champions' clubhouse. His performance since coming to the Red Sox as a free agent in 2003 has earned him that sway.

So has affability and his imposing nature when a topic suddenly displeases him. The topic of his left wrist and the damaged sheath tendon that caused him to miss 45 games this season, that subject displeases him.

The 32-year-old is often the inner voice of the locker room. It was Ortiz who suggested after Boston's Game 1 win at Tropicana Field that the Rays were starstruck in their first playoff game. It was Ortiz who admitted after the Rays' Game 2 win that they were playing with the same abandon that had allowed them to take the East title from Boston.

But when asked repeatedly about the condition of his wrist after batting .071 in the ALCS and .161 in the playoffs with no home runs and one RBI, Ortiz has refused to answer "the same old questions."

The oldest but most germane being his wrist.

"I'm okay," he said.

Manager Terry Francona has said only that he doesn't "know if he's perfect," adding it made no sense to sit him because Ortiz can change the tone of a game and a series with one swing.

Apparently he saw it coming, too.

Boston's Big Papi keys the big rally 10/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 17, 2008 6:17pm]
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