BOSTON -- The swing is borrowed from John Daly, Carl Yastrzemski and every spike-driving ghost who built the Union Pacific rail line. Ferocious.
He uncoils from a deep crouch and lunges at the pitch -- extending both arms. He rips into the ball with the purpose of a laid-off Detroit auto worker bashing a sledge into the side of a Toyota Camry. He holds the bat with two hands and never lets go.
"Swing hard in case you hit it," Phil Plantier says with a smile.
Those are the words Yastrzemski said to Butch Hobson when the Alabama quarterback made it to the big leagues. Today Hobson manages Plantier -- the little guy with the big shoulders and the rail-splitting swing.
He says he hasn't hurt himself swinging the bat, but admits one of his cuts Tuesday left him "feeling like I just fell down a flight of stairs."
Just more than a week ago, there was reason to speculate that Plantier might fall all the way down to McCoy Stadium. He'd gone 41 straight games without a home run, and Hobson was upset that he didn't show for extra batting practice when the Red Sox were in Baltimore. Plantier was benched against a couple of righthanded starters. He had Pawtucket paw prints on his forehead.
The threat has passed. Plantier has hit four homers in 10 games, and three in the last five.
He hit a game-winner into the net Monday when John Dopson and Jeff Reardon blanked New York. Tuesday he lined a shot inside the foul pole in the ninth, enabling the Red Sox to win in extra innings. Last night he made a terrific running catch of Mel Hall's drive in the ninth, and his double off the wall sparked a
sixth-inning rally. He scored the deciding run in the Red Sox's 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees.
Is there any difference in his mechanics?
After a long pause, the 23-year-old Californian says, "Nothing's different."
Then why is the ball going over the fence?
Another long pause. This guy is more careful and evasive than Warren Beatty.
"Ask the ball," Plantier says.
You don't like to talk about it, do you?
"I'll be honest," he says. "The more I talk about my hitting, the more it gets me away from what I've got to do. It kind of overloads my brain.
"If I have to come and talk about my hitting with people other than my hitting coach, it's counterproductive."
His right elbow (surgery last winter) is a handy excuse. Plantier says the elbow still has its good days and bad days. Hobson does not believe the elbow is a problem.
But something was wrong. Forty-one games without a homer is a Sahara drought for a power hitter like Plantier. He averaged one home run every four games in the final six weeks of the 1991 season. He was the Red Sox's most feared batter down the stretch, and this spring much was expected when he came north for his first full season.
He says he didn't dwell on the brownout, but admits, "The manager puts you in the middle of the lineup and you want to produce to help your team and your teammates. When you're not doing those things, it makes you want to come to the park and turn it around."
Plantier isn't a bag of laughs and he chooses not to reveal his analytical abilities. He speaks in cliches and major-league mantras.
A lot of ballplayers say they don't read newspapers. Plantier sounds like he's telling the truth. USA Today -- the paper for people too busy to watch television -- is safe and shallow enough for most.
There are, however, no news blackouts when you play for the Red Sox, and Plantier was slightly wounded by the Baltimore BP brouhaha. He said he did not like being singled out.
"I think he's turned the corner and is starting to do the things he's capable of doing," says Hobson. "Last year he was one of my hardest-working guys. He knows what it takes to stay in the big leagues."
"Butch and I haven't had a problem and I doubt we ever will," adds Plantier. "We have good communication. I know Butch well enough and have enough faith in him to know that he would not say things behind my back. He'd say it to my face."