The Orioles were getting slaughtered on the scoreboard. Nothing they were doing was keeping the Red Sox from piling on the runs. When Ortiz stepped up to the plate in the eighth inning on Friday night Gregg knew the best way to get him out was to throw fastballs at his midsection.
But the thing is, Gregg wasn’t trying to take away Ortiz’s manhood—in both the literal and the figurative sense—just to get that one out in the eighth inning of a game that his team had already lost.
He was taking a stand for the rest of the majors.
He was saying that the Red Sox, and their high-scoring offense, had to be stopped by any means necessary. He knew it wasn’t going to happen because pitchers were going to stop them by striking them out. He knew that the only thing left to do is try to intimidate such a potentially potent lineup.
It’s like when the neighborhood kids get tired of the local bully stealing their lunch money. At some point one of them needs to stand up and pick a fight with the bully, if nothing else just to see how they will react.
Sometimes this strategy works and sometimes it doesn’t. But unless you take a swing at the big bad bully you’re just going to keep giving him your money.
So when Gregg decided to pick a fight with Ortiz, the leader and most visible face on Boston, he was sending a message to the Red Sox. He was saying that he was going to test whether or not they would back down from the fight.
And it’s not dirty pool to challenge the fortitude of the front-runner. It’s the last weapon in the arsenal of an inferior league.
If the other teams can’t keep the Sox from scoring more runs than they are by using skills like hitting and pitching, then the only thing left for teams like the Orioles to do is try to get the Sox to take their feet off the gas pedal by intimidation tactics.
This way of trying to win baseball games is perfectly legitimate. Gregg has all the right in the world to pitch Ortiz inside and try to get him off his game. That’s exactly what I would want a Red Sox pitcher to do if we were the clearly inferior team.
You do what you have to do to win, and if you aren’t playing a little dirty when you’re the underdog then you’re not trying hard enough to win.
So when Ortiz didn’t back down, when he didn’t let Gregg dictate to him how the game was going to be played, he sent a message right back to the rest of the MLB.
Ortiz said that the Red Sox were the big bad bullies of baseball and they weren’t going to back down from a fight.
He let the league know that this team was not going to be beat through intimidation tactics. He let them know that they only way they were going to fall short of winning a World Series this year was to lose to a team that beat them by pitching, hitting and fielding better, not by making them shrink from a confrontation.
And with the kind of talent the Red Sox have in the pitching, hitting and fielding departments, I’d say any other team in the league is going to have a really hard time beating them fair and square.