For David Ortiz, The Mission Is Home Run No.2
The relief, satisfaction and glee that poured through Red Sox Nation Wednesday night was palpable through our TV sets. David Ortiz finally broke out of his home run drought with a near-400-footer to center field, and sent the city into a frenzy. But the cruel reality of the blast soon set in: Big Papi just hit his first home run- on May 20.
For any designated hitter in the third spot of a major league batting order, zero home runs after 20 at-bats is kind of crazy. But after 149 at-bats is just absurd. Ortiz hit only eight extra-base hits in 87 at-bats in April. He entered Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays homerless and batting .203.
Numbers like that, under any circumstances, are unacceptable for a player in Ortiz’s position. It wasn’t long before every kind of scrutiny unearthed itself and reared its ugly head at Big Papi. Talk of Ortiz’s lingering injuries, diminishing bat speed and yes, possible past steroid use, dominated the media when discussing the Red Sox.
Credit is due to Terry Francona for remaining faithful to his designated hitter, knowing his breakout would come. He had made it clear that Ortiz’s benching for the Seattle series (after an 0-for-7 performance against the Angels in which he left 12 men on base) was for the purpose of giving him a mental break, and that moving him to any other spot in the order was not an option.
“If I said I hadn’t thought about the lineup, that’s not true,” Francona told Ian Browne of RedSox.com Tuesday. “But I knew all along I really didn’t [want to move Ortiz]. David and I talked about that a little bit.
“This is hard, because I don’t want to tell a player, ‘Hey, if you keep struggling, we’re going to move you down.’ I don’t want to do that. I want him to hit. I think our best lineup is with him hitting third. Now, saying that, when you’re looking for production … and I told him, if I ever decide to change that, I’ll tell you first. And he understood that. The one thing I don’t want to do is start bouncing the lineup all over the place.”
The west-coast relaxation looks to have paid off, at least for now. Ortiz looked like his same-old slumping self Tuesday as he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but he busted out Wednesday night for his first homer and a 2-for-5 night at the plate.
I’m going to play the role of “reality check” for Red Sox Nation right now: Ortiz is still mired in an early-season slump. The whole first home run thing was great to finally see him achieve, but it’s only the first step to regaining the form of the Ortiz we all know. If he goes the next five or six games without a home run, what then will we think of him?
We probably won’t be as hard on Ortiz as we have been, but we do need to stay on his case if he keeps failing to deliver. Terry Francona remains supremely confident in Ortiz’s ability, and was even back when he was still homerless. But it’s his job to have confidence in his players. We as fans aren’t so obligated.
Ortiz surely heard the boos resonating throughout Fenway when he was still pressing and struggling to get anything out of the park. Despite all Ortiz has done for the Red Sox, he deserved to be booed off the field with the way he was hitting. As long as he’s hitting third in the order, he can’t continue being a near-automatic out.
Perhaps getting the proverbial monkey off his back was all he needed. Although it will take more time and at-bats to know whether Ortiz is really out of his slump, but one thing he knows is that we’ll let him know about it if he’s not. But he can rest assured that if he finds the form he thinks he finally has, we’ll be the first to stand and cheer.
“The fans, they’ve always been so supportive since I’ve been here,” Ortiz told Browne after the game. “That’s unbelievable. There’s not too much I can say about it. I try to come every day and get it done for them.”
We will remain supportive, as long as he continues to get it done. Not just this one time.
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