BY KEVIN McNAMARA
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - David Ortiz has played in 57 postseason baseball games and he's noticed a certain look in the eyes of players along the way.
Some players wear a worried, even tight look. A nervous excitement washes over others. The best ones somehow raise their game when the lights glow brightest.
Last night at Tropicana Field, Ortiz sat in the Red Sox dugout and took the temperature of his teammates and the Tampa Bay Rays. He liked what we saw in Boston's 2-0 win in Game One of the ALCS.
"Regular season is totally different than the playoffs," he said. "I'm the kind of guy that I watch everybody's faces. I've got that opportunity because I don't have to go out there and play defense.
"I'm telling you, I saw faces tonight that were different from what I see in the regular season. I don't blame nobody. There's a lot of pressure out there right now because you know you have to win otherwise you go home. That relaxed type of thing that you have in the regular season, that wasn't out there tonight.''\
Did Ortiz see a tight Rays' team?
"I don't know if they [were] tight, but that one situation where you come up with men on base and you get that hit or you bring the run in that you saw all year long from those guys, it wasn't out there tonight. I didn't think I really saw that," he said. "But it's their first time in the playoffs so who can blame them. It's a total different feeling.''
Ortiz notes that he was blown away by the atmosphere in his first playoffs. That came in 2002 when he played with the Twins in an ALDS against Oakland.
"My first time in the playoffs, I was playing for the Twins so you have, what, two dozen people [in the stands] during the regular season]? You go to the playoffs, you have 40-50,000 thousand people and that Metrodome gets loud so it was a totally different feeling,'' said Ortiz.
Now in his fifth playoff season with the Red Sox, Ortiz said he still gets extra nervous. Who deals with those nerves and can execute under pressure is the team that wins championships. He says he talks to younger players in his clubhouse about the playoff atmosphere and so far likes what he sees out of a young group of Red Sox who are thriving under pressure.
"We know how to deal with situations in the playoffs,'' he said. "From young players to veteran players, everybody around this ball club knows how to deal with it.''
Ortiz added that "we try not to panic. It's a lot of pressure out there and sometimes you get confused the way you want to deal with it. You've got to figure a way out and get through it.''