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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

David Ortiz's Absence Isn't a Good Sign for the Free-Falling Red Sox

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AP Photo

On the bright side….at least David Ortiz is rested.

Thanks to finding a new, even more pathetic way to lose - Saturday's 6-5, 15-inning loss in Tampa Bay - the Red Sox’ losing skid hast hit nine, the worst stretch since the abhorrent 2001 edition managed the same ineptitude from Aug. 25-Sept. 4. Boston hasn’t lost 10 straight in 20 years, a feat it can accomplish Sunday afternoon when Brandon Workman steps in for the injured Felix Doubront and tries to play the role of stopper against the Rays’ Jake Odorizzi, who’s managed to allow no runs in a pair of laborious starts this month.

Perhaps John Farrell will still find a way to put together a lineup more laughable than the one the Red Sox employed at Tropicana Field on Saturday, but that seems foolhardy to expect. Mike Napoli was sidelined with a dislocated finger and flu-like symptoms and is headed to the disabled list along with teammate Shane Victorino, a move which welcomed Daniel Nava back to the club. Meanwhile, Ortiz had a planned day off due to a calf issue, which left A.J. Pierzynski in the designated hitter role, Mike Carp at first base, and Brock Holt leading off.

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Despite the punch-and-judy lineup, the Sox took a 5-0 lead against David Price and the Rays. Jake Peavy gave it right back, Price got rolling, and the Sox’ bats went into their inevitable shell, all the way to the 15th inning when Boston reliever Andrew Miller secured the loss with an errant toss into center field. Eeyore has had better days than Miller this season.

That would transpire five innings after Ortiz graced the Sox with his presence, pinch-hitting for Jackie Bradley, Jr. in the 10th inning. Ortiz saw an 84-mile-per hour slider from Tampa’s Grant Balfour for a ball before swinging at the next pitch, and grounding out gingerly to third base. Holt flew out to deep center, and on we went.

But where was Ortiz before? Where was Ortiz pleading with his manager to forget the day off, imploring that it was more important that he have four at-bats in a game the Red Sox needed in lieu of avoiding a nine-game losing streak? Where was the team leader who the night before had “nothing to say” except for “we stink?” Isn’t that the sort of presence that shouldn’t be sitting in the shadows the next day, unable to do anything about the stench that has permeated the Boston clubhouse? Where was Farrell telling his star slugger, “sorry, but we need you today, big lug?”

"There is no give up in this group," Farrell said. "You do the best you can with what you have. That's the mode we're in right now.”

Maybe. But Ortiz saw two pitches on Saturday.

The patient among us will point out that it would behoove the manager to give a 38-year-old player a day off in May should you hope he’d be healthy for the stretch run. The rest of us might suggest that the athlete is a DH, whose primary job is to merely swing the bat. As team spokesperson, Ortiz needs to be vocal about turning things around during this current streak, both with his mouth and his presence at the plate.

Where was it on Saturday?

The Red Sox have had four days off in the past 19 days. They just had one on Monday, when the losing streak was in its infancy at four games. If either Farrell or Ortiz were adamant that Saturday would remain as-scheduled, then the 2014 Red Sox are in even more danger than this month might suggest.

The Red Sox are now seven games behind the surging Blue Jays, winners of five straight, and mired in last place in the AL East. They’re 20-28 on Memorial Day weekend. It’s no longer early.

Worst to first to…worst?

"I've got nothing to say,” Ortiz said after Friday’s 1-0 loss in Tampa. “We stink.”

He’s not lying. But whether he likes it or not, Ortiz is saddled with the responsibility of helping to find a solution to this mess.

On Saturday, he was nowhere to be found, aside from two pitches. Scheduled day off and all.

Too bad. If Ortiz is in the lineup, maybe we’re not talking about the possibility of further embarrassment a day later.



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