Ortiz reaches milestone with No. 400


Ortiz reaches milestone with No. 400

OAKLAND -- In a perfect world, David Ortiz would have been able to celebrate his 400th career homer in style, following a Red Sox victory.
But wins have been in short supply for the Sox, who finished a seven-game road trip to the West Coast Wednesday with a dispiriting 3-2 loss to the Oakland, taking some of the shine off the achievement.
"It was in a good situation, tied the game,'' recounted Ortiz of the solo shot to right to lead off the fourth inning off A.J. Griffin.
But in the moment, Ortiz couldn't find much joy in the honor, even if he became only the eighth active player to reach the milestone and moved him into 49th place all-time on the homer list.
"Right now, not really,'' said Ortiz when asked if the homer felt special. "I'm just trying to play the game and try to keep on producing for this ballclub. I'll just try to keep on rolling.''
In time, Ortiz acknowledged, the homer will be appreciated in its proper historical context. But Ortiz, 36, intends to keep playing for several seasons. With the benefit of hindsight, the homer will someday mean more to him.
"I know at some point,'' he said, "when I'm not playing baseball, I might look at it from the outside and be like, 'Whoa -- I guess I had a good career.' But right now, it's just another home run that you put up there.''
There's something about facing the A's that makes for milestone homers for the Red Sox. Ortiz is the third Red Sox player in history to hit No. 400 against the A's. Ted Williams hit his 400th against the Kansas City A's and Carl Yastrzesmki hit No. 400 against Oakland, too.
Ortiz's cell phone was buzzing throughout the afternoon with texts and messages of congratulations from other players in the game. He estimated that he received "30 or 40.''
In his next at-bat following the historic homer, the A's public address announcer pointed out that Ortiz had reached the milestone two innings earlier, earning Ortiz a length ovation from the fans as he tipped his helmet in appreciation.
"That was pretty cool,'' he said of the reception. "You get something like that done on the road and people really appreciate it, it's (nice to get) appreciation.''
When he connected off Griffin, Ortiz had a pretty good idea that No. 400 had arrived. During the seven-game trip, he had hit a handful of balls to the warning track, but understood this one had the distance.
But after going six games without hitting a homer, he wasn't worried.
"To be honest with you, I wasn't worried (about when it was going to come),'' he said. "I was just swinging like a normally do and not trying to do too much.''
His teammates greeted him when he returned to the dugout and shared in the celebration.
"That was awesome,'' gushed Cody Ross. "Everyone was just waiting for it. It seemed like every pitch, he had a chance to do it. Once it went in the air, there was just a sigh for him, especially for him, just to get that weight off his shoulders. I'm just so happy for him and proud of him.
"It's a huge accomplishment.''

Unlike Wakefield, Wright has helping hands with Red Sox


Unlike Wakefield, Wright has helping hands with Red Sox

BALTIMORE -- Near the start of his Red Sox career, Tim Wakefield -- who would wind up pitching 17 years for the club and would tie for the most number of wins in franchise history -- was largely on his own.

One of Wakefield's first pitching coaches in Boston, Joe Kerrigan, regarded knuckleballers as little more than freakish performers.

When Wakefield encountered mechanical issues, Kerrigan could offer little assistance. The pitch was unpredictable, and in Kerrigan's mind, so was the pitcher. The same rules that helped Kerigan dissect and analyze a conventional pitcher's issues wouldn't work with Wakefield.

That frustrated both coach and pitcher, as Wakefield was left to fend for himself.

More than once, as Wakefield foundered, Kerrigan essentially told him: "There's nothing I can do to help you; you're on your own.''

Steven Wright has far more at his disposal, and it's one of the reasons Wright has enjoyed a run of consistency that often eluded Wakefield. There's help available, assistance that Wright readily takes full advantage of.

If throwing a knuckleball hasn't exactly developed into a science, it's certainly far more advanced than it was in 1995, when Wakefield arrived in Boston.

In the middle of a season that has seen him post an ERA of 2.45 and toss a league-best three complete games, Wright has has developed his game fully.

He regularly changes speeds with the knuckler, adding one more complicating factor to an already mystifying pitch.

Depending on the conditions, the hitter, and the score, Wright can either add or subtract to the velocity of his signature pitch. On Monday, when he limited the Orioles to two runs on four hits in a 7-2 Memorial Day victory, he offered knuckleballs as slow as 59 mph and fastballs as fast as 83 mph.

"I like it,'' said Wright, "especially against a lineup like [the Orioles]. They're a very aggressive team. In that inning they scored the two runs (the fifth), I kind of got caught up in the same speed. So I kind of went out there after that and concentrated on not throwing too many at the same speed. It kind of throws them off, because I'm hoping that if I leave one up, the difference in the speed will get them out front.''

But perhaps Wright's biggest step forward this season -- the first in which he began the season as a full-time starter in the rotation -- is the ability to detect and correct flaws within a game, sometimes within an inning. Again, this stands in stark contrast to Wakefield, who was notoriously streaky. When Wakefield was trending in a positive fashion, both he and the club could only hope that it continued. When he hit a rut, however, there was telling how long he would scuffle, unable to reverse his downhill slide.

Wright has no such issues. He can often tell -- and if he doesn't, pitching coach Carl Willis can help -- when his delivery has gone askew. Better yet, he knows what he needs to do immediately to correct it.

"Absolutely,'' agreed Wright. "It's my fifth year doing it and I've worked tirelessly with Wake and [bullpen coach Dana Levangie] and Carl and that's one thing we've concentrated on, is staying within that delivery. Because it's all about staying relaxed and repeating my delivery -- especially for me, but really, any pitcher. Because I'm getting more years, more reps, it's become a little more easier to make an adjustment pitch-to-pitch.''

"He's shown that [ability] in a number of starts this year,'' said manager John Farrell. "That's a testament to someone who knows more about himself, to have those checkpoints.''

Ironically, it was Wakefield himself -- who got so little help for periods of his own career -- who offered Wright a key checkpoint last season.

"He had me move my hands back,'' recalled Wright. "What it does is, it helps me lock my shoulders in a place so I don't get rotational. That's one of the biggest things because if I started feeling that I'm getting rotational, then there's something off.

"It could be a number of things, but I feel like that's the biggest adjustment that I made. It's a small one, but it's huge in keeping everything within reason. Because I'm not a power pitcher, I don't need to reach back and get something (extea in terms of velocity) so when I do throw a fastball, it's the same mechanical look.''

Wright seemed on the verge of becoming undone in the second inning Monday. With two outs, he walked two hitters, allowed an infield single and loaded the bases.

But from the dugout, Willis noticed that Wright was rushing with his delivery.

''I had a hard time [noticing] it,'' said Wright, "but he could definitely see it. We work tirelessly, especially when Wake is around, to try to find some mechanical things so Carl can help me out if I need it. Same thing with [catchers Ryan] Hanigan and [Christian] Vazquez -- they see it too, because I'm throwing to them all the time.''

All of which has Wright among the game's ERA leaders and tied in the complete game category with the likes of Chris Sale, Johnny Cueto and Clayton Kershaw.

"I definitely sometimes pinch myself," he said, "like, 'Man, is this real?' "