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Dan Shaughnessy

For Papi, big sigh of relief

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 21, 2009
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He was walking the line.

Not like Johnny Cash. David Ortiz was walking the Mendoza Line.

"I was about to hit righthanded," he admitted.

Batting an even .200, homerless in 35 games, Big Papi finally found his mojo last night. In the bottom of the fifth inning of Red Sox game No. 40, Ortiz turned on a 1-1 pitch from Toronto southpaw Brett Cecil and swatted the ball into the camera triangle in center field. It was pretty much the same spot where Bob Gibson's homer landed in the seventh game of the 1967 World Series.

Hallelujah. The planets are aligned. Order has been restored in the baseball universe. David Ortiz finally has a home run.

"I feel like I got my confidence back," Ortiz said after the game. "I feel like a real hitter, not like the punch and judy hitter I've been the first 40 games . . . swing like a man."

Free at last, Papi rounded the bases (lucky he didn't need a GPS) and got a big hug from Kevin Youkilis after crossing the plate. The men in the Sox dugout initially greeted Ortiz with the traditional silent treatment, then mobbed him as the crowd called out for more.

The Fenway legions wanted a curtain call.

Ortiz obliged.

It was a moment. Where else would this happen? In what other town could your slugger go homerless for 35 games, drop to .200, then be summoned from the dugout for a tip of the cap? This is why the truly great ones love playing here.

"I would do anything for these fans," said Big Papi. "The fans have been so supportive since I've been here. The biggest thing about the whole situation is the fans."

And his teammates?

"The guys gave me the silent treatment," he said. "I know [Dustin] Pedroia had a lot to do with that. I get so much support from everybody here. I never forget about my teammates."

"You could see the sheer joy in the dugout," said Terry Francona. "His teammates and the way the fans treat him is pretty special."

Several other things happened on this wacky night at the museum. Jason Varitek hit two homers on the same date (Cher's birthday) in which he once had a three-homer game. The catcher also drew an intentional walk. The Sox hit four homers in one inning before somebody nudged Cito Gaston and had him pull his starter. Jacoby Ellsbury qualified for the Penn Relays, tying a big-league record with 12 catches in center field. Hit machine Youkilis returned to the lineup and cranked three singles to raise his average to .404, Ortiz added a Wall double in the eighth. The Sox beat the division leaders for a second straight night.

But there was only one talking point at game's end: Big Papi's homer.

It was the weight of all weights - Robbie Robertson squared. Ortiz had a piano on his back and Vince Wilfork on his shoulder. He was feeling about half past dead even though he had regards from everyone.

The hideousness of the situation was underlined in the Sox clubhouse late in the afternoon when Youkilis was surrounded by reporters while standing in front of his locker. Youkilis was getting ready to play his first game since May 4. He was coming off the disabled list, batting .393. And all anyone wanted to know was . . .

"Do you think your presence in the cleanup spot will help David Ortiz?"

"I don't know if I have any bearing on what Ortiz does," an agitated Youkilis answered. "If everyone stops asking questions about David Ortiz and leaves him alone, maybe that will help him out. It would bother me if everyone was talking negative about me every day. David Ortiz wants to get out of the slump as much as anybody.

"That's it. I'm not answering any more questions about David Ortiz."

Ortiz did his own talking after the game.

"It feels good, man," he said. "I got that big old monkey off my back . . . It's been hard for me. I wasn't really worried about the home runs as much as getting my swing back. I was missing pitches that I normally hit. It's crazy how things happen. I had some good swings and nothing happened. I hit this one good."

This is not to suggest that all of Ortiz's problems are solved. Big Papi went 2 for 5, struck out twice, and is batting .210. A quarter of the season is already over. We want to see the old David Ortiz, not the aging David Ortiz.

What changed overnight?

"My father flew in yesterday," said Ortiz. "It was loose at home today and we were playing with my son. My father told me, 'It's not going to get worse than this. Get out there and have fun. Do what you know how to do.' "

That's the slump buster right there. Works every time. You just have to remember what it is you love about the game.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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