Papi picks up pace with Opening Day homer

April, 2, 2011
4/02/11
12:25
AM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- During the team’s brief visit to Houston after breaking camp in Florida, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he reminded his team that most everything that happened in the season’s first two weeks would be blown out of proportion, both good and bad.

It wouldn’t surprise him, he told reporters, if people would be calling for David Ortiz to retire if he took an 0-for-4 in the opener.
[+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezDon't cry "retirement" -- David Ortiz quieted critics with a home run to start the season.

For most of the game Friday against the Texas Rangers, Ortiz appeared bent on putting Francona’s theory to the test, as he tapped out twice and went down swinging against left-hander C.J. Wilson. But he salvaged his day, and put off the premature retirement notices, when he hit a 406-foot home run to dead center field off Darren Oliver in the top of the eighth inning.

The home run was notable for several reasons.

--It tied the score at 5, although that tie did not survive the bottom of the eighth, when Texas scored four times off Sox reliever Daniel Bard.

--It matched the earliest date Ortiz has ever homered in a season. He hit another April Fools home run off Jeff Suppan in 2002. Two years ago, he did not hit his first home run until May 20. Last season, his first came on April 23.

--It also came off a left-hander, after Ortiz hit just two off lefties last season.

“I think it’s more for you guys [reporters],’’ Youkilis said to an inquiry about whether it was nice to see Ortiz connect so early into the season. “That’s just BS. Stories are going to be written -- if he doesn’t hit a home run, it’s the end of the world; if he hits a home run, there he goes. We’re not worried about David. After 162, he’ll hit 30 and 100 (RBIs) and do a lot of great things for us.

“When he hit the home run, I was just excited we tied the game. Personal stats, personal goals, are nothing compared to wins and losses.’’

While Youkilis can characterize the attention given to Ortiz’s slow starts the past two seasons as the product of an overheated media -- and there was a good degree of that, to be sure -- it’s also true that Francona was sufficiently alarmed that he stopped using Ortiz against lefties in favor of Mike Lowell.

Ortiz said near the end of camp that he hopes a better start “will shut everybody up” about his past struggles.

“Just have to make sure not to miss it when he gives you something to hit,’’ Ortiz said of connecting against Oliver. “Daniel [Bard] is a guy everybody knows we count on. He had a tough day. Nothing you can do about it. Try to come back the next day and do something different.’’

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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