DENVER — Manny Ramirez, in a blue sweat shirt and white do-rag, was laughing and giving teammates a thumbs-up. David Ortiz stood at first base in gray sweats, a red bandanna around his head, the sun glistening off an earring on his left lobe.
Out in left field, Julian Tavarez was flat on the grass, getting his legs stretched out in an outfield that’s baseball’s equivalent of a prairie. Players looked up at the Rockpile in center, filled with spruce, pine and oak trees, some of the foliage turned yellow and red by cool autumn nights.
Fenway Park this isn’t.
The Boston Red Sox are on a high, and it’s not just because of their 2-0 World Series lead. After filtering out of Fenway in the dead of night, they arrived at their hotel at 5 a.m. Friday and eight hours later were at Coors Field, checking out the dry, thin air of a ballpark as unique as the one off Kenmore Square.
As preparation, the Red Sox told their players to drink, drink, drink — water, that is.
“On the plane, all over the locker room, trainer’s room: Just drink that water, stay hydrated,” said rookie Jacoby Ellsbury, who will roam center field between Ramirez in left and J.D. Drew in right.
With no designated hitter in the National League city, the Red Sox were in a quandary. Ortiz, slowed by a bad knee, will move to first base while regular first baseman Kevin Youkilis is benched and Mike Lowell remains at third. Ortiz played seven times at first this year, all in interleague play. He’s not a Hoover.
“Anything around me, it’s going to be (caught). After that, I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve played first base before and it wasn’t that bad. It’s just not Gold Glove-caliber.”
Denver was founded in 1858 by gold prospectors, but these teams are chasing 200 or so troy ounces of silver — the World Series trophy. And while Boston hoped to paint the town red, people downtown wore Rockies purple as they readied for Denver’s first-ever World Series game.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston’s $103 million pitcher, starts against Josh Fogg, who was born in Lynn, Mass., of all places, and is the son of a Red Sox fan.
Players weren’t the only ones soaking it all up. In a silver-colored contraption under the stands between home plate and first base, next to a huge cooler of Coors Light, 142 dozen baseballs were stored behind a padlock in the moist air of the ballpark’s humidor, introduced in 2002. Since then, Coors has been stripped of its reputation as baseball’s premier launching pad, with home runs and scoring dropping as steeply as a Rocky Mountain ski trail.
“Balls aren’t as hard,” Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. “Not like bricks. They’re not hitting rock. They’re hitting the same ball as in those other places.”
Instead of thinking about Rico Petrocelli or even Doug Mirabelli this weekend, Red Sox fans might be more concerned with Bernoulli — specifically whether Dice-K’s curveball will flatten out in the thin air under Bernoulli’s Principle, which explains why airplanes fly.
“The amount of pressure difference created by the spin depends directly on the density of the air itself,” Bennett Goldberg, chairman of the Boston University College of Arts and Sciences physics department, was quoted as saying on the school’s Web site.
Matt Herges, Hawkins’ bullpen mate, said balls down the lines won’t curve foul at the mile-high ballpark, as they do at sea level. But he also thinks the path to success is to let the issue vanish into thin air.
“I think it’s kind of a head game,” he said. “They’re so professional, they’re going to adjust. I just hope they don’t adjust right away.”
Of course, it’s also a numbers game, and the stats have been pretty bleak for the Rockies, who have done nothing to disprove that the NL might as well be the Pacific Coast League when it faces the AL.
After winning 21 of 22 entering the Series and sitting around for eight days, Colorado is hitting .180 against the Red Sox — 100 points below its NL-leading average during the regular season. Rockies batters have 11 hits and 22 strikeouts, and their pitchers have walked 15 to Boston’s three.
Willy Taveras and Kaz Matsui — Nos. 1 and 2 in the Rockies’ batting order — have combined to go 1-for-15.
And here’s a more daunting stat: 27 of 34 previous teams to open 2-0 at home have gone on to win the Series, including 11 straight since the 1981 New York Yankees flopped with four straight losses to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“They took care of home,” Hawkins said, “it’s time for us to take care of home.”
Perhaps the Rockies will move up shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the batting order in hopes of finding a spark. Boston wants to squelch that, preferring a repeat of 2004, when the Red Sox opened with two wins at home, then finished a sweep in St. Louis for their first title in 86 years.
“If we win, the opponent might be like, ‘Damn, we’re done,’” Ortiz said. “And if we lose, that might give them some hope. It is a big game.”
WHO: Boston at Colorado
WHAT: Game 3, Boston leads best-of-seven series, 2-0
WHERE: Coors Field, Denver
PITCHERS: Matsuzaka (15-12, 4.40 ERA) vs. Fogg (10-9, 4.94)
TV: Channel 8