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Ortiz is powerless in clutch

BALTIMORE -- It remains one of the flukiest of seasons, and it was highlighted here.

Brady Anderson was the Red Sox minor league outfielder who was traded with a minor league pitcher named Curt Schilling to the Orioles for pitcher Mike Boddicker in 1988, when general manager Lou Gorman was looking to give his starting rotation a boost at the trading deadline.

Anderson became a solid player for the Orioles, averaging just over 15 home runs a season, until 1996, when he hit 50, two fewer than Mark McGwire and one more than Ken Griffey Jr. It was a shocking explosion, made even more shocking (and in many circles, suspicious) when, after his 50-homer season, Anderson hit just 18 in each of the next two years and never again hit more than 24.

Until this season, there have been only two other times in which a player who hit 50 home runs hit fewer than 30 the next. One was Hack Wilson, the hard-living Cubs outfielder who hit 56 in 1930, the same season he drove in 191 runs, a major league record. The 5-foot-6-inch Wilson fought with manager Rogers Hornsby the next season -- his heavy drinking was a prime source of friction -- and he finished the 1931 season with just 13 home runs.

In 2001, Luis Gonzalez, the slender-as-a-blade-of-grass outfielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hit 57 home runs in the greatest season of his life, climaxed by a broken-bat single off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera to win Game 7 of the World Series. The next season, Gonzalez dropped to 28, and now, at the tail end of his career with the Dodgers, he has been in the teens the last two seasons.

Of the 39 times there have been 50 home runs in a season, one slugger hit 70 the next year (McGwire in 1998). Three times a player hit at least 60 (Sammy Sosa twice and McGwire). Six hit at least 50, 15 at least 40, and nine at least 30.

But this season, there may be a fourth 50-homer hitter who fails to crack 30 the following season, and he plays for the Red Sox: David Ortiz.

Alan Tieuli, a senior administrator of communications for J.P. Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge Series and the man who did the 50-homer research using Sean Forman's Baseball-reference.com website, said that at his current pace, Ortiz projects to hit 28 home runs. Ortiz, who did not play Wednesday and is iffy here for tonight's opener against the Orioles because of recurring inflammation in his left shoulder, has 19 home runs, tied with Manny Ramírez for the club lead.

Injured on a headfirst slide into second base July 20 against the White Sox, Ortiz needs 11 homers in the last 48 games to reach 30, hardly a lock, given the nagging condition of his shoulder coupled with a right knee that may require surgery after the season for a meniscus cartilage tear.

"I think the power drop-off has been a burden for him," one sympathetic teammate said this week in Anaheim. "He may be trying to hit some now, and that's when it gets even more difficult. Hey, he's human."

Ortiz is hitting for average -- .319 -- and his OPS (combined on-base and slugging percentage) of .991 ranks second in the American League, behind only Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees (1.025). But for those who wonder if some of the magic has left Ortiz's bat, he has given them cause.

Consider this: Baseball-reference.com tracks a stat called "Close and Late," which measures a hitter's performance under the following conditions: The game is in the seventh inning or later, and a team is tied, ahead by one, or the tying run is at least on deck. In 2006, in close and late situations, Ortiz led the majors with 11 home runs, one more than Albert Pujols of the Cardinals. He was second in RBIs to Atlanta's Jeff Francouer, 33 to 29. In 2005, Ortiz also led the majors with 11 homers and was first in RBIs with 33.

Half a page in the media guide is devoted to Ortiz's walkoff hits with the Sox: 15, including two epic home runs in the 2004 postseason.

There have been no new entries this season. In close and late situations, Ortiz has no home runs and three RBIs. Rookie Dustin Pedroia, who hit a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning of Wednesday's 9-6 win over the Angels, has two home runs in close and late situations.

And Ortiz can hardly look to Ramírez to pick him up in those situations: Ramírez has two home runs, but is 8 for 50 (.160), .100 less than Ortiz. Pedroia has the highest average on the team in close and late situations, .372, with Jason Varitek just behind at .367. Four players, including Varitek, have knocked in as many as eight runs.

With the Sox attempting to win their first division title since 1995, a few big hits by Ortiz would go a long way, and they may yet come. "I wouldn't bet against David Ortiz," GM Theo Epstein said recently.

"You don't forget how to hit," Ortiz said the other day. He was talking about Jermaine Dye, but he might as well have been speaking about himself. "You can't take that away from anybody."

But when pitchers become more judicious in their pitch selection -- "Barry [Bonds] told me it would be like this after 50," Ortiz said during the Giants' visit to Boston -- and the knee and the shoulder ache, the odds start getting longer.

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