The decline and fall of David OrtizBy
It was Thursday evening in New York when the Angels walked off with a 5-4 win against the Red Sox. Jeff Mathis singled home Reggie Willits in the bottom of the 12th to end what was a very frustrating game for the Red Sox.
No one was worse for the Sox on Thursday than David Ortiz. He went 0 for 7 with three strike outs and single-handedly left 12 runners on base. After the game, he sounded like a defeated man. “I’m sorry, guys. I don’t feel like talking right now. Just put down, Papi stinks,’” he said to reporters.
For Ortiz, the 0 for 7 capped off what had been one terrible start to the season. He is hitting .208/.318/.300 and has not homered since September 22. Brett Gardner, the Yanks’ outfielder, has a slugging percentage nearly .125 points higher than Ortiz’s, and Papi has been benched this weekend as the Sox take on the Mariners.
Around baseball, Ortiz’s spectacularly bad spring has been the talk of the town. Earlier today, The Times Bats blog profiled Ortiz and three others off to uncharacteristically slow starts. Alex Belth compares Ortiz to Mo Vaughn, another large DH no longer a force at the plate after his age 33 season.
Where Vaughn suffered through a wrist injury though, Ortiz is simply missing Manny. As Ed Price tweeted, Ortiz has hit .240 with a .783 OPS since the Red Sox shipped Manny away. Perhaps that’s just a coincidence. After all, Jason Bay has put up some very good offensive numbers too. Perhaps Manny’s protection forced pitchers to attack Ortiz. Either way, that’s not what the Red Sox expected for their $12.5 million.
For me, this decline has been bittersweet for a number of reasons. First of all, I basically predicted it back in January 2006 when I analyzed Ortiz’s contract situation for the now-defunct Talking Baseball blog. I’m also glad that the Yankees no longer have to face the David Ortiz of old who would refuse to make outs against New York.
As a fan of the game though, I hate to see the competition go out this way. I’d see the Yanks face Ortiz and win that battle while he’s at his finest. We can watch A.J. Burnett or Joba Chamberlain strike out Ortiz now, but that’s hardly an accomplishment today. With 30 strike outs in 157 plate appearances, that’s all Ortiz does anymore.
Now Ortiz may just be slumping. It’s still early, and while 157 plate appearances is a decent number, I’m not ready to dance on the baseball grave of Big Papi until the season is over. For now, though, an era is drawing to a close, and while the Yanks didn’t always win, that era was never lacking for drama, excitement and good old baseball.