The Boston Red Sox have one of the most legendary hitters in all of MLB history in their lineup, David Ortiz. The designated hitter is the undisputed face of the franchise in baseball’s modern era. Yet, in yesterday’s game, Ortiz came on as a pinch hitter, instead of a first baseman, to replace starting pitcher Joe Kelly in the late innings. There was a time when Ortiz would automatically be put at first when playing in a National League ballpark. Now, being 39, the Dominican native, who resides in Boston to be closer to ‘home’, has questions being asked of him. There’s no time like the present for Ortiz to wake up before September ends.
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For the season, Ortiz is hitting a slash line of .265/.353/.510 with 27 home runs and 77 RBIs. In 13 seasons for the Red Sox, Ortiz has only been below 100 RBIs four times: 89 in 2008, 99 in 2009, 96 in 2011, and a sad 60 in the horrific year of 2012. MLB.com projects Ortiz to reach 33 home runs and 96 RBIs at his current pace.
Some parts of the media have reported that Ortiz is suffering from a nagging injury, which kept him out of the lineup on Saturday; however, his .238 at the plate in the last seven games, as well as the emergence of Travis Shaw, has made the argument that maybe Ortiz is not always automatic on the lineup card, at least when playing NL teams.
Taking time off for the injury makes sense, but should not suggest weakness, by any means. In the last 30 games, Ortiz hit 10 home runs and 30 RBIs, earning 18 walks to 18 strikeouts for a slash line of .355/.434/.710. That’s not the statistics of an ailing old man, trying to relive past glory by hanging on too long to the spotlight. Those are the numbers of a solid, prime contributor.
Ortiz also seems to find another gear of leadership and skill when it comes to fighting for his extended family in Boston.
In 2004, Ortiz hit three homers and 11 RBIs to bring the Red Sox from the brink of elimination against the New York Yankees, making Boston the first team to ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit and win it. Ortiz was the MVP. They won another championship in 2007, but it was in 2013 that showed the true grit in Ortiz.
After the Boston Marathon disaster, Ortiz took the field alone in front of the fans in Fenway Park. He made one of the most passionate speeches ever made in sports if not in all of history, declaring that he was a Bostonian like them and that it was their city, with an accent on the expletive. The Red Sox seemed to ride the wave of emotions, after being in last place the year before, and found their way, miraculously, to the promised land of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. After cameras caught Ortiz’s love for the game, the team, and the city overflowing out of him in a ferocious speech that he gave his teammates in the dugout, the man had 11 hits, two homers, and six RBIs, virtually carrying the team on his mighty shoulders to victory. It was a formality that Ortiz won the World Series MVP title, as there was nobody else even close to him. He marked his claim on the hearts of Red Sox Nation, as well as a place in Cooperstown, with that performance.
But, like all heroic ballplayers, if you stick around long enough, you find yourself becoming the villain in the gaze of the present day. In this case, it isn’t Ortiz, per se, but his team.
The Red Sox are 60-69 in the American League East division cellar, 13 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays. The wild card deficit stands at 7.5 games, with seven teams between the Red Sox and that sacred ground of post-season play.The turmoil of the team has many of the Fenway faithful crying out for the heads of who are responsible.
They wanted general manager Ben Cherington to be served up on a platter, but he quit his post before the ax could fall. Some of them wanted the newly-signed or acquired players to feel their wrath, but that often never happens, especially when the team has invested so much money into them. You can’t just release them, paying a boatload of money for players to not play for the team, and nobody is going to trade for underachieving players and pick up their paychecks.
That leaves the aging players and the coaching staff. Players like Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia, another Red Sox hero from the past, keep season-ticket holders buying those seats and coming to the ballpark. The fans may get angry with them when they get injured or are in a slump, but they forgive just as easily when they make comebacks. There’s the connection between the fans and the players, as they remember those heroic moments. The release of a player of that caliber is like breaking the bond between family members, for some fans.
The coaching staff, on the other hand, is a different story.
Brad Johnson of MLBTradeRumors.com paraphrased some notes that baseball insider Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports made in a video broadcast. One of the points was about Red Sox manager John Farrell, who is finished his first three rounds of chemotherapy to try to eliminate lymphoma:
"“He’s visiting the Sox each day they’re at Fenway and holding video chats with interim manager Torey Lovullo and his coaching staff when the team is away. New Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has not said whether Farrell will return next season, however, regardless of his health.”"
The aforementioned modern age of baseball has become a business, not a family, as much as MLB marketers keep trying to advertise the optics to the contrary. The world of business doesn’t care about what happened yesterday; money is to be made today, by any means necessary.
Coaches and aging players become the scapegoats in that realm, when the team begins to fade from immediate success. While the players still have a relationship with the fans, the average Joe doesn’t see or hear from coaches every day, except in short interviews before and after the games. The players won the game, right? The coaches were just sitting there, chewing gum or some other baseball cliches. They didn’t impact the game at all, did they?
Right now, the Red Sox family in that dugout is in serious jeopardy of losing one of their members, whether by health or job insecurity. When the Red Sox are in trouble, they’ve called on Ortiz to be their hero. If Ortiz can wake his bat out of a minor slump and energize the rest of the team, whom have won seven of the last 10 games, maybe they can salvage this season with an air of respectability. If that happens, there’s a possibility that Cherington may be the only sacrifice that’s needed for this year’s performance.
They are poised to sweep the NL East-leading New York Mets, before heading into the Bronx for a three-game series against their archnemisis, the Yankees. The pitching has come through, lately, with only a question of runs left to answer. If September becomes another month to remember in Red Sox lore, with Ortiz at the helm, he can quiet down any questions about himself or his team manager before 2016 comes around.
For himself, for his teammates, for the city of Boston, for Farrell, Ortiz is asked to done his red cape once more. Can he do it?
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