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MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Strategy of pitching around Papi backfires on Cards

Strategy of pitching around Papi backfires on Cards

Strategy of pitching around Papi backfires on Cards

BOSTON -- Adam Wainwright wanted to pitch to David Ortiz, and Mike Matheny let him. That pitch, a 91-mph cutter that didn't get in on Ortiz's hands, put the Red Sox ahead en route to their Game 5 victory. It was the beginning of the end for the Cardinals.

At some point between the Matheny-Wainwright meeting on Monday and Game 6 on Wednesday night, the St. Louis decision-makers decided that they were through tugging on Superman's cape. They weren't going to challenge Ortiz any more. The Cards were going to make someone else beat them, and they sure did.

Ortiz worked a nine-pitch walk from Michael Wacha in his first at-bat, but he was intentionally walked in the third and fourth innings, and Big Papi came around to score both times on hits by No. 6 hitter Shane Victorino -- a three-run double off the Green Monster in the third inning and a single to left in the fourth inning.

The three hitters batting after Ortiz -- Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Victorino -- combined to hit .140 in the World Series. But they were 4-for-11 with five RBIs in the 6-1 victory that finished the third World Series championship in 10 seasons for Boston, this one far more interesting than the sweeps over St. Louis in 2004 and Colorado in '07, but one-sided, nevertheless.

Wacha, who had won his four previous postseason starts, went to the mound with a chance to force a seventh game, but he fell victim to the Red Sox's tendency to pile up runs at Fenway Park in October. They've played seven World Series games here with Ortiz, and they've scored 50 runs, including six-plus runs in five of the seven games.

Ortiz, the World Series MVP, got three intentional walks and four walks overall in Game 6, with lefty Kevin Siegrist striking him out the one time he didn't walk. The slugger finished the Series batting a ridiculous .688 with two homers, six RBIs, eight walks and seven runs scored.

"He's as hot as anyone you're going to see this time of year," Matheny said. "We tried to make tough pitches in tough situations, tried to pitch around him at times. What this comes down to [is] they got big hits in big situations, and that's something that eluded us this time."

Papi on an October tear
Highest batting average in a World Series
Rank Player Team Year Opp. BA
1. Billy Hatcher Cin. 1990 Oak. .750
2. David Ortiz Bos. 2013 Stl. .688
3. Babe Ruth NYY 1928 Stl. .625
4. Hideki Matsui NYY 2009 Phi. .615
5. Ricky Ledee NYY 1998 S.D. .600
5. Danny Bautista Ari. 2001 NYY .583
7. Ivey Wingo Cin. 1919 CWS .571
8. Chris Sabo Cin. 1990 Oak. .562
9. (tie) Lou Gehrig NYY 1928 Stl. .545
9. (tie) Hank Gowdy Bos. 1914 Phi. .545
Minimum 18 plate appearances or seven walks plus hits

Victorino's three-run double in the third inning eased any anxiety in Boston's dugout and among most of the 38,447 rabid Red Sox fans in the stands. It was the first hit in 15 at-bats off Wacha with runners in scoring position during the playoffs, and there would be no recovery.

"It's very disappointing," Wacha said. "Everyone on this club wants that ring. I didn't want to win it for myself. I wanted to win it for these guys in this clubhouse who have been working all year, working their tail off all year. Whenever I have a poor outing like that, it hurts even worse. I feel like I just let the team down. It's not a very good feeling, that's for sure."

With Jacoby Ellsbury on second base and one out in the third, Matheny ordered Wacha to intentionally walk Ortiz. That was close to paying off when Wacha struck out Napoli, but the rookie hit Gomes with a pitch -- the first time Wacha hit a batter in his season and half as a pro -- and then threw Victorino a pitch he immediately wanted back. It rattled off the left-field wall, clearing the bases, with Gomes barely beating catcher Yadier Molina's tag.

"It was a mistake -- fastball right down the middle," Wacha said.

With the Red Sox leading 4-0 in the fourth, Wacha intentionally walked Ortiz with Ellsbury on third and two outs. Lance Lynn relieved Wacha, and it wasn't pretty. Napoli singled, scoring Ellsbury. Gomes walked and Victorino singled, scoring Ortiz.

Maybe the Cardinals should have kept challenging Ortiz. The results couldn't have been any worse.

Research gathered by Chris Moran and published on gammonsdaily.com shows that Ortiz has often been shut down immediately after the hottest stretches of his career. Moran identified the five most productive stretches of at least four games that Ortiz has had in the big leagues (all between 2003-07) and then looked at what he did in the next two games.

The numbers: 1-for-8 with a walk and four strikeouts; 3-for-6 with a homer, a double and a walk; 1-for-8 with a walk and three strikeouts; 0-for-6 with a sacrifice fly, a walk and three strikeouts; and 0-for-8 with a walk and four strikeouts. That's a combined 5-for-36 with 14 strikeouts, and a slash line of .139/.238/.250.

Would Ortiz have stayed hot? Or could the Cards have cooled him off, which would have defused the two three-run innings?

You can make the argument, sure, but why bother? It seems a lot more likely that Ortiz would have driven another ball deep into the right-field seats than replicated Carl Yastrzemski's popup in 1975.

"Hey, let me tell you," Ortiz said. "Those guys [are tough]. I was hitting well, but it wasn't like I was hitting pitches right down the middle of the plate. They were trying their best to get me out. I was just putting good swings, [and] I was getting away with some swings. ... But that pitching staff, like I said before, I feel sorry for the St. Louis Cardinals when they have to sign all of them at once. They're going to have to bring a lot of money to the table, because you have a whole bunch of cats out there performing at that level on that stage, you're dealing with an unbelievable pitching staff."

And in the end, those pitchers and the men directing them decided they wanted no part of a 37-year-old designated hitter.

Wainwright had the right idea. The Cards weren't going to beat the Red Sox without figuring out a way to get Ortiz out.

In another era, Bob Gibson might have knocked Big Papi on the seat of his pants a few times. St. Louis tiptoed around him, and the professional hitters in the middle of Boston's lineup showed why they were there. Consider this a test that did not come with a right answer.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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