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Ortiz the choice in drive time

He again rates as key to offense

By Alex Prewitt
Globe Correspondent / June 11, 2012
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The fastball was high, the home run far. The game no longer tied. Big Papi? The star.

Well, at least for the moment.

Overshadowed by another Red Sox loss, David Ortiz still again proved himself to be Boston’s offensive backbone, even as his team finished a free-falling homestand with a 4-3 defeat.

A solo blast in the fourth inning, his team-high 14th homer this season, broke a 1-1 tie against Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann and continued a career year for Ortiz, more than justifying that offseason arbitration deal that made him the league’s highest-paid designated hitter.

Ortiz finished a triple short of the cycle - please, hold back the laughs; he does have at least one three-bagger in 12 straight seasons - and was nearly the hero twice when the lead kept yo-yoing away from the Sox, ultimately settling on Washington’s side.

Leading off the fourth, Ortiz took called strikes on an 87-mile-per-hour slider and 79-m.p.h. curveball. A 94-m.p.h. fastball missed the zone. Ortiz then deposited the ensuing offering, a heater left up, into the Washington bullpen, 390 feet away.

Finishing 3 for 4, Ortiz was one of the few Sox bright spots as they got swept by the National League East-leading Nationals at Fenway. The Sox head into a six-game trip having lost six of seven.

Leading off the second, Ortiz legged out a double to left-center, though an accurate throw from left fielder Tyler Moore might have nailed him. Not that Ortiz would ever admit it.

“What do you want me to tell you about it?’’ Ortiz deadpanned. “It was a rocket. I still got it. My problem is I need to hit the brakes.’’

Ortiz represented the go-ahead run in the eighth when he smoked a 3-and-1 fastball to right field off Tom Gorzelanny. Ortiz thought better of trying to stretch it into a double, and scampered safely back to first.

“We had a lefty pitching with a lot of righties coming up. It was a tie game, I didn’t want to screw that up. I’m going to stay,’’ Ortiz said. “I probably could have made it, especially with the throw. The throw was to the cutoff man, not to the bag.’’

Newfound speed notwithstanding, Ortiz leads the Sox in runs (40), hits (69), homers (14), RBIs (38), walks (31), and OPS (.976). He also is tied for second in the AL with 20 doubles, trailing only teammate Adrian Gonzalez. Plus, his strikeout rate is the lowest it has ever been.

“He’s one of the best in the game,’’ third baseman Will Middlebrooks said. “He helps us win every day, it seems like. It’s good to have him out there. He’s a heck of a hitter and he’s just going to pound it.’’

Ortiz nearly single-handedly kept the Sox afloat in April, hitting .405 with 6 homers, 20 RBIs, and a 1.184 OPS.

“David’s swinging the heck out of the bat,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said. “He’s been a very consistent offensive force for us. He’s been playing like an All-Star.’’

According to results released last Tuesday, Ortiz is the leading AL vote-getter at DH for the All-Star Game. The selection would be his eighth.

The 36-year-old also has served as an available resource for younger teammates.

“He’s just available to us,’’ Middlebrooks said. “That’s pretty much all we can ask. He treats me just like I’ve been here for 10 years. It’s comforting to know you have someone like that who you can go to and ask anything.’’

But Ortiz’s homer Sunday was his first since June 1, and he entered just 5 for 28 this month, which saw his average drop from .323 at the start of June to .300. His 3-for-4 day brought it back up to .308.

“I’ve been a little quiet lately,’’ he said. “But it’s good to bounce back. Try to have a good road trip.’’

Alex Prewitt can be reached at aprewitt@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt.

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