Pulling up the Sox

KEN FIDLIN

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

BOSTON -- Under a leaden sky, the damp chill of autumn in the air, David Ortiz settled his 6-foot-4, 250-pound bulk into the batting cage and started raking.

The first pitch was redirected on a long, high arc into the visitor's bullpen in right field, straight over the 380-foot sign. The next landed in the centre-field seats in the deepest part of the ballpark.

And the next one, with a flick of the wrists, rattled around in Fenway Park's Green Monster seats perched on top of the left field wall.There followed a succession of laser-like line drives, working foul-pole to foul-pole. Ortiz stepped out.

Manny Ramirez, swaddled in layers of rain gear, his long, tangled dreadlocks tied back, stepped in. His first three swings produced sweet inside-out liners just inside the chalk in right field, each an exact replica of the one before. Then he clanged one line drive after another off the Green Monster.

MEN AT WORK

Unlike another day or another month, there was no chatter. No smack-talk between the two friends; not a hint of a smile on the eve of the American League Championship Series. There should have been a sign beside home plate: Men At Work.

Ortiz bats No. 3 for the Red Sox, Ramirez No. 4. For the past five seasons they have meshed into the most productive 3-4 combination of their time and one of the most productive of all-time.

In those five seasons, they have combined to smash 388 home runs, score 1,023 runs and drive in 1,210. That's an average of 77 homers, 205 runs and 242 RBI a season while maintaining a combined on-base percentage of over .400.

By way of comparison, Yankees icons Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris combined for 356 home runs, 930 runs and 952 RBI from 1960-64.

During this post-season, Ortiz and Ramirez have already had a major impact. With a 1-0 series lead heading into Game 2 of the ALCS last night, which was ongoing at press time, they reached base 29 times in 36 appearances, scoring 12 times.

"I know we're thrilled that we run them out there because they're dangerous," says Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "David and Manny back-to-back take beautiful swings. It's been happening since before I was here. But since I've been here, running through the middle of our order, you got a chance to get nicked up all the time.

"Even when you don't, you have to work. If you walk one or do something, the other guy can get you, and it makes everybody in front of them and behind them, better."

They may have been born in the same city, they may speak the same language, and may enjoy each other's company but their personalities are worlds apart.

Ramirez' personality is worlds apart from just about anybody. To say that Ramirez travels to the beat of his own drummer is a massive understatement. Manny travels to the beat of his own crazy marching band.

"Manny is Manny," says Ortiz. "He's always going to be Manny. Manny's an open-minded person. Manny's cool. He has no problem with anyone here. He does what he's gotta do, and that's it."

Nobody denies Ramirez is a non-conformist to the point of eccentricity. Manny wants to be traded. Manny doesn't punch the spring training clock on time.

In the baseball world, structure counts. There are right ways and wrong ways and then there's Manny's way. And to watch him play left field is an absolute skit. But nothing promotes tolerance like a succession of 35-homer, 110-RBI seasons.

PEDIGREE

"It's not as if there's only one way to get yourself ready to perform," says third baseman Mike Lowell. "He does what he thinks he needs to do to get ready. The numbers are there.

"So what are you going to tell him? He has enough pedigree and games under his belt that he knows how to get ready. He has that latitude with us. If a rookie wanted to go with Manny's program, then I don't think he would be given that much of a leash."

Ortiz, on the other hand is part of the glue that keeps the Red Sox clubhouse together. He has a ready smile and a sense of humour always bubbling below the surface.

"He has the quickest, warmest smile I've ever seen," says Francona.

"Big Papi" isn't just a nickname: it's a description of the slugger's paternal role.

"Some people think I'm mean until they get to know me," Ortiz says.

Ramirez, 35, and Ortiz, 31, were born 31/2 years apart in the city of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, each taking very different routes to Boston.

Ramirez came up with Cleveland Indians, a fixture in their' outfield as they developed from an also-ran to one of the best teams in baseball.

In 2001, free agency beckoned and Ramirez hit the jackpot, signing an eight-year, $168 million contract which runs through next season, with club options for 2009 and 2010.

David Americo Ortiz Arias, on the other hand, had to pay his dues over a long period of time before establishing himself at the big-league level.

Unlike Ramirez, there is little in the early resume of Ortiz to suggest he'd become the toast of Boston, the man who bludgeoned the Curse of the Bambino to death.

Ortiz toiled for years in the Minnesota Twins minor-league system, finally establishing himself by the time the 2002 season was finished.

But the Twins were in such dire financial shape they were hesitant to shell out for his services.

He was released outright.

"What happened to me should teach everybody that you should never give up," says Ortiz.

Ortiz's friendship with fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez led him to Boston. Martinez lobbied the Red Sox to take a chance on Ortiz and young GM Theo Epstein signed him to a one-year deal for $1.25 million.

The rest is history.

Signed to a four-year $52 million contract in 2006, Ortiz is locked up through 2010 and the club has a $12.5 million option on 2011 -- a steal for a player who has earned the reputation as perhaps the greatest clutch hitter in the game.

"There's as good a 1-2 punch as there is in baseball," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after the Angels had been eliminated last week.

Neither had a great regular season by their standards, but they've been lights out in the post-season.

"Pick your poison," pitcher Curt Schilling said. "When they're both on, I don't know if there is a way to get both of them out."


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