David Ortiz would probably like nothing more than to see his last eight baseball games erased from the collective conscious. Since the start of the playoffs, the Red Sox’s three hole hitter is 5 for 31 with eight walks and eight strike outs. He has a double, a triple and an RBI.
All over New England, the whispers are building, and the rumors are mounting. As The Wall Street Journal’s Numbers Guy noted Wednesday before Ortiz’s 1 for 4 performance last night, Boston fans are questioning the clutchiness of Big Papi. Carl Bialik, of course, uses New York’s favorite whipping boy as a point of comparison:
In his last 16 postseason games, the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez has collected eight hits in 56 at bats, with one home run and one run batted in. In his last 13 postseason games, Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz has 10 hits in 51 at bats, with no home runs and five runs batted in. Rodriguez is famously un-clutch; Ortiz famously clutch. Yet both have had ups and downs in their playoff careers, which provide too small a sample size to reach definitive conclusions…Now Ortiz, the hero of the 2004 playoffs, is beginning to experience what A-Rod has: doubts about his clutch abilities.
Now, we’ve all been where the Rays are right now. We all know what it feels like to be in the drivers’ seat against the Red Sox in a short series, and we all know what the Red Sox — or any team, really — can do with three very good pitchers lined up to pitch their next three games. If I’ve learned nothing since the start of the 2004 postseason, it is not to celebrate until the last out of the clinching game is within hand.
But David Ortiz’s struggles present a very apt parallels to those of Alexander Emanuelle Rodriguez. For years, Ortiz has been a fan-favorite in Boston. He seemingly comes through in every conceivable clutch situation, and the fans expect him to pick up this team and carry them to promised land.
As Ortiz nears his 33rd birthday in a month, though, his body, never really a fine specimen, isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. Various joints ache, and Ortiz’s weakness — that he is a one-dimensional player — are laid out for all to see. David Ortiz without his power and hitting is nearly as a dead a weight in the Red Sox lineup as Jason Varitek currently is.
On the other side of things is A-Rod. Unlike Ortiz, A-Rod doesn’t carry that clutch reputation. He’s won two MVP awards in New York and through the first seven games of the 2004 playoffs, he was as hot a hitter as any in baseball. But over the Yanks’ last few postseasons, A-Rod hasn’t lived up to his billing.
In the end, of course, it’s an issue of sample sizes. It’s bad practice to aggregate playoff appearances over the years, and it’s bad practice to assume that Ortiz isn’t any more or less clutch than he used to be based on 31 at-bats in October. But fans will be fans, and as the Red Sox stare down the looming threat of elimination on Thursday, Ortiz, if he doesn’t start hitting, will hear something familiar to A-Rod: boos in his home ballpark. The fans can be quite fickle as they wonder, “What have you done for me lately?”