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Making move would help them move on

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 31, 2009

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Nobody at Fenway Park yesterday seemed to care about the New York Times’s bombshell that David Ortiz had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Especially after he’d struck for a three-run homer in the seventh inning to turn a 5-3 Red Sox deficit against the Oakland A’s into an eventual 8-5 win.

But in the days to come, away from his home ballpark, things are going to get tougher for Ortiz and his teammates.

If I’m Theo Epstein, I’m pulling off the biggest blockbuster deal I can come up with.

Roy Halladay or Dan Haren or Victor Martinez or Adrian Gonzalez, here we come.

It was clear that Ortiz’s teammates rallied around him after the news broke. Moving forward, there will be even more attention, and not the good kind. There’s never a good time for a revelation such as this, but a massive trade could certainly divert attention from the story.

It may not be the sole reason to make a big deal, perhaps giving up a little more than they want to, but it’s an opportunity to acquire an immediate positive reinforcement as the Sox go on the road to Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and New York, where there will b e no mercy.

After yesterday’s dramatic win, the Sox were three games behind the Yankees (who were at the White Sox last night) and fending off the Rangers for the wild card. The Yankees had to go through this sideshow with Alex Rodriguez in spring training and upon his return to the lineup after recovering from hip surgery, but they had a lot of time early in the season to recover from the news. The Red Sox will not have that luxury.

The news about Ortiz came a day before the trading deadline, with fans wondering if the team can make the playoffs and waiting on the edge of their seats to see whether Epstein will make a move.

“It’s disappointing,’’ Epstein said. “I’ve known him for a long time. I respect him as a person. We care about him. He’s meant a lot to us so we support him. Secondly, we admire his approach to this, which is he’s not gonna run from it, or hide from it.

“The first thing he had to find out was whether he tested positive. He found out this afternoon after talking to the union. And now he needs to find out what he tested positive for. He needs to get answers and then he’s going to stand up and answer everyone’s questions. I admire that courage.’’

Epstein said the story could be a distraction “if we allow it to become a distraction. But David’s approach is he’s not gonna hide, find out the facts, and then answer questions, and that should help prevent it from becoming a distraction. The organization supports him. His teammates support him.’’

Yesterday morning, long before the New York Times broke the story on its website, Ortiz was strolling around the clubhouse wearing his iPod. I engaged him in a conversation about Martinez and whether he’d like to see him in a Red Sox uniform. Ortiz’s eyes lit up. “He’s a good dude,’’ Ortiz said. “That would be great.’’ Asked if the team could use a boost of that magnitude, he said, “Absolutely. Sometimes at this time of the year guys are dragging. That would help.’’

Little did Ortiz know that a trade for Martinez might take some heat off him.

Ortiz decided to go about his normal pregame activities, including hitting in the cage, shortly after a Times reporter informed him of the story. There appeared no rush on Ortiz’s part to ask out of the lineup, which was a good thing for the Sox, who took a 6-5 lead on Ortiz’s three-run homer in the seventh inning.

If there was any trepidation among the crowd of 37,919 to go all out in support of Ortiz, it became a slam dunk once he hit the homer. Ortiz popped out of the dugout to answer a curtain call.

The crowds on this road trip will be not so friendly, which Ortiz is certainly used to.

“I really don’t think it’s gonna get easier for David but I think he’s always been as straightforward as possible with the media and I think he’s going to speak from the heart and we’ll see how that plays out,’’ said Mike Lowell. “I’m sure it’s an added thing on him and most of us worry about our teammates and how something like this will affect him.’’

Though Ortiz took a sad day and turned it upbeat, he must now begin the long road to repairing his reputation. He won’t be punished by Major League Baseball because the positive test occurred in 2003, when the testing was anonymous and a forerunner for the current testing program.

Nomar Garciaparra came to an emotional defense of Ortiz yesterday, saying, “I know David. That guy is just a solid individual and cares about the game and what he does and I just hope for him he’s doing all right. He did all right today.

“Right now, the way it looks, until a guy admits it, you don’t know what’s true and what’s not. You’ve got guys taking regular supplements at GNC and getting 50-game suspensions. That’s unfortunate. There’s a big difference between being a cheater and irresponsible, but we seem to put the same label on both people and that’s unfortunate, too.’’

Given the outcome, there was reason for suspicion because his story, becoming a superstar almost overnight, seemed too good to be true. And maybe it was.

On top of it all was his vehement reaction to steroid users in a wide-ranging interview in spring training. All of that makes this look really bad.

But the end of the world it is not.

What happened in the aftermath of A-Rod’s admission is proof positive that the public will forgive and forget. At least the hometown fans will forgive, as long as Ortiz performs. If he struggles, there’ll be mounting emphasis on his positive test. Like A-Rod, he has time to put some distance between this positive test and the end of his career. He has not tested positive since the 2003 test, though his former teammate, Manny Ramirez, has.

There’ll be tougher days ahead for Ortiz, but there might be some relief, too, if a blockbuster deal occurs today. Ortiz is probably rooting for one.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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