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Ortiz has done level best

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / September 24, 2009

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - After the season’s first two months, when the notion of David Ortiz reaching 100 RBIs seemed unthinkable, Red Sox manager Terry Francona believed something few others did: Ortiz was still Ortiz, and his season could - and would - be salvaged.

Ortiz would have to live with an unsightly batting average, Francona figured, but his other numbers, by year’s end, could still be worthy of respect.

As the end of the regular season draws near, Ortiz is approaching benchmarks the first portion of his year had seemingly put out of reach. After Ortiz drove in a season-high four runs last night - three on a 418-foot homer into Kauffman Stadium’s fountains - he is sitting at 88 RBIs, 12 shy of triple digits with 11 games to go.

“Everybody looks at my numbers and will be like, ‘He had a bad season,’ ’’ Ortiz said. “Everybody knows at the beginning of the season I had a tough time. But like I always say, a bad season for me is a good season for another guy. You know what I’m saying? One of my boys told me the other day, ‘You know what? I’ll take your numbers any time if I’m going to arbitration.’ ’’

And who was this?

“Top secret, man,’’ Ortiz said, smiling wide. “I can’t let you know everything.’’

Since May 20, the day Ortiz hit his first home run, his 25 home runs and 73 RBIs tie him for third and seventh, respectively, in the American League. His wretched first two months ensured he would never be happy when he looks up at the scoreboard and sees his batting average. He is hitting .234, 53 points below his career average entering this season. Still, Ortiz has reasserted himself as a force in the lineup.

“It’s amazing,’’ Francona said. “I know what David went through was more than normal problems, slump. But this game has an amazing way of guys seeking their level. I don’t know if it’s human nature or whatever, but it’s amazing how for the most part guys get to their level. They don’t always do it the way you drew it up.’’

Ortiz’s resurgence has been a key factor in the Red Sox likely reaching the postseason. The Sox are 22-2 in games in which Ortiz hits a home run. Francona dropped Ortiz from third or fourth in the lineup to fifth or sixth, lengthening the lineup and making Ortiz more of an RBI threat.

“When I hit,’’ Ortiz said, “good things happen.’’

They started to happen, in part, when Ortiz forgot about his numbers. He accepted he would not be able to match his typical statistics, then went about coming close because he forgot about those dreadful first two months.

“Oh, it’s been gone, a long time ago,’’ Ortiz said. “It’s been gone. I haven’t thought about it. Put that in the past and move on. I’m not going to change the first two months of the season. We’re going to the playoffs, and I know this ball club needs me. I’m going to keep on doing my thing.’’

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com.

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