10/04/2003 10:38 PM ET
Ortiz gets the job done
CHICAGO -- If you're tired of the three-days-rest angle -- and who could blame you if you were? -- stop reading. (You should note, however, that it will come up again in about 24 hours.)
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
The issue presents itself every year in the playoffs. Do you go with a lesser pitcher from the back of the rotation, or do you bring back your top starter on short rest? Over the years, Braves manager Bobby Cox has shown a decided preference for the latter, bringing a pitcher back after three days only 19 times in his career.
Twelve of those times, the Braves have lost, but on Saturday, in a must-win Game 4 of the National League Division Series, Atlanta triumphed, 6-4, over Chicago. Russ Ortiz wasn't especially sharp -- he allowed 11 baserunners in five-plus innings. But unlike his first start in this series, he wriggled out of trouble enough times to win.
"I didn't feel anything [different] during the game," Ortiz said. "After the game maybe your legs feel a little heavier, but as far as stamina and strength and all that, it's still there. ... I didn't feel any bad effects or tired effects from coming a day early. That's good for me to know, and I think good for them to know, that I'm able to come out and still have good stuff."
Cox was faced with a choice between Ortiz, who won 21 games with a 3.81 ERA in 2003, or rookie Horacio Ramirez (12-4, 4.00 ERA). Once the series went to 2-1 in favor of the Cubs, Cox called on Ortiz, a veteran of seven postseason starts, rather than the rookie lefty.
It wasn't a slam dunk, and the decision can be debated. But when the team wins, nobody complains.
In each of his first five innings, Ortiz stranded a runner in scoring position. He stranded two runners in the first, fourth and fifth, and took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth. Eric Karros' homer and a walk to Alex Gonzalez finished Ortiz's afternoon, but he had done about what could be expected.
"Most of the time when we lose, we hit double plays, and like I said, we had some opportunities to come back," said Cubs manager Dusty Baker.
Ortiz threw 88 pitches, then handed the ball over to a Braves bullpen that has been impressively stout through four games.
"I've pretty much done that my whole career, unfortunately," he said. "But that just goes to show that [if] you go out and make your pitches, you're gonna get your ground ball. ... When guys get on base, I don't really worry about it a whole lot. I just go out there and, if I need a ground ball, just try to get a ground ball."
Ortiz's teammates didn't care about style points. All that interested them was, not surprisingly, the win. The right-hander, who the Braves acquired from San Francisco in the offseason, could have given up 10 runs -- if the Braves had won, 11-10, there would have been no complaints.
And it was far from that bad. Ortiz's final line on Saturday was actually a little better than in Game 1.
"I've been impressed the whole year with him," Andruw Jones said. "I've seen him pitch before. I've seen him pitch in crucial games. He's a bull. He goes out there and fights and does the best he can to keep us on board. We needed this game. He's the best pitcher we've got, and that's why Bobby put him out there."
On Sunday, the Braves will do it again. They'll call on lefty Mike Hampton to go on short rest in Atlanta on Sunday, facing a fully rested Kerry Wood. That's the same Kerry Wood who was lights-out at Turner Field in Game 1.
So get ready to hear about all of this again, one way or the other.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.