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Ailing Ortiz takes nosedive

David Ortiz shows his frustration after flying out in the ninth with two men on. He went 0 for 6 against the Rays to end his seven-game hitting streak. David Ortiz shows his frustration after flying out in the ninth with two men on. He went 0 for 6 against the Rays to end his seven-game hitting streak. (Chris O'Meara/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 26, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - David Ortiz walked off. "I'm not frustrated," he said. "Just keep playing." He repeated himself, heading into the shower, the words reverberating among the pounding water and the big man's steps. "I'm not frustrated."

He spoke more softly later, his voice scratchy and low. The ice encasing his right knee had been removed, and he limped slightly over to his locker in the visitor's clubhouse at Tropicana Field. He had started to feel the effects of a sinus infection, perhaps an offshoot of the flu that has riddled the Red Sox, when the team arrived in Tampa.

He did not feel much better last night, not with the illness that had taken hold, not after an 0-for-6 night ended with a headfirst slide into first base that perhaps caused a few panicky feelings for the coaching staff. It was his final chance, coming with Dustin Pedroia on first base and one out in the 11th inning. It was the perfect situation for Ortiz. But this is not the perfect Ortiz.

"When you feel like I feel, you'll try anything," Ortiz said. "Like I said, a little crazy. You swing, you're out. You don't swing, you're out too. I never saw anything like that before. What else can you do, keep on swinging."

He did, but each at-bat resulted in an out. Some hard-hit balls, some swings-and-misses. Ortiz had gone 0 for 6 before in his Red Sox career, but on all three occasions the Sox had won the game. Not this time, the Sox falling, 5-4, in 11 as Nathan Haynes won for the Rays the kind of game Ortiz usually wins.

"There's nobody as frustrated as he is right now," hitting coach Dave Magadan said. "You can see that with the dive into first base. That's a dangerous thing for him to do. It's one of those periods where it's frustrating for him because as soon as he thinks he's getting his way out of it, he takes an 0 for 6.

"I've seen a lot of guys get hurt doing that. We were holding our breath."

Not only did Ortiz say he is under the weather, but his knee is obviously bothering him as well. It's certainly not as sore as it was last season, when it sapped his power, turning home runs into doubles. It's better, certainly. But, he said, it's not 100 percent. To that end, he has continued to work on making it stronger, coming in early, working with the trainers.

Ortiz had a seven-game hitting streak entering last night. During that time, he hit .370 (10 for 27) with 3 home runs, 2 doubles, 16 RBIs, 7 runs, and 5 walks. Prior to his frustrating, hitless night, Ortiz had lifted his average from .070 April 12 to .189. He's now at .177

"I'm coming out of it," Ortiz said. "I'm feeling better lately. Bad luck. [Hit it] two or three times, just right at people. It's an inches game.

"Keep swinging, in my situation. I don't play different. Just got to keep battling."

His slump might be lifting, but that still doesn't ease the pain of a sore knee and a sore throat and, perhaps, pride that's hurting just as much. For the man who could always force his team to win, by virtue of his will and his bat, these are difficult times.

"It's not like he's a guy that outwardly shows a lot of frustration," Magadan said. "All the good hitters, they don't want - whether it's the fans or the other team - they don't want to let anybody see that they're frustrated with themselves. [Ticked] off that they're not getting hits. In his mind, I think, he feels like he's letting us down, which couldn't be further from the truth. He's carried us for a lot of years here. We've just got to pick him up as a team."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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