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Ortiz still swinging

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  August 27, 2009 11:59 AM

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You could probably win some bar bets with this question. There are two players who rank in the top five in home runs and RBI in the American League since May 20. Mark Teixeira is one. Who is the other?

Home runs
1. Carlos Pena, 24
2. David Ortiz, 22
3. Russell Branyan, 21
4t. Mark Teixeira, 20
4t. Nelson Cruz, 20

RBI
1. Bobby Abreu, 68
2. Mark Teixeira, 65
3. Justin Morneau, 63
4. David Ortiz, 62
5t. Joe Mauer, 60
5t. Juan Rivera, 60

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It would have been hard to imagine that list back on May 14, when Ortiz went 0 for 7 in Anaheim, Calif. and told reporters afterward, "Just put down, 'Papi stinks.' Ortiz’s first walk-off home run of the year last night was, more than anything, a capital-M Moment. In the long view, it also served to punctuate that since May 20, the day he hit his first home run, period, of the year, Ortiz, in a strictly on-field sense has salvaged his season.

Ortiz smacked two longballs last night, one to the opposite field and then the missile around Pesky’s Pole to end the game, two different swings on two different pitches. Ortiz has regained his balance at the plate, and he no longer needs to or tries to guess at pitches, like you could see him doing earlier in the season.

Ortiz endured a slump for about eight games while he dealt with the fallout of the leaking of his name from the “List of 104.” Otherwise, Ortiz has been one of the top slugging forces in the American League since May 20. Among qualifying Red Sox players, Ortiz’s .840 OPS over that span ranks second behind Kevin Youkilis’s .907, and his .520 slugging percentage leads the team.

Ortiz's first two months were so vicious that no streak will give him good numbers for the full year; he is still batting .227 with a .318 on-base percentage. At the moment, that's not really the point. As Jason Bay has said, Ortiz getting hot would be akin to trading for an elite slugger without giving up anything.

There was a time when calling for Ortiz’s departure was the majority opinion. The Herald back page screaming “Stick A Fork In Him” comes to mind. Few disagreed, and the Red Sox are lucky manager Terry Francona was one of them. He deserves credit for recognizing Ortiz’s importance and that a lot of big hits were still stored away somewhere in that big, black bat.

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