October Ortiz's time to shine
Despite aches and pains, Big Papi ready to raise his game
BOSTON -- There were days throughout this sometimes trying year that David Ortiz's right knee ached so much he didn't know how he'd run to first base, let alone hit the type of tape-measure shots that have marked his magical time in Boston. There were moments his left shoulder barked and he wondered how long he could wait until the next cortisone shot.
But now it is October and Big Papi -- whose Red Sox open their American League Division Series against the Angels on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET at Fenway -- doesn't hurt anymore. Well, maybe he does, but he's about to have too much fun to notice.
This is Ortiz's time of year, and last year the party had to go on without him. The Red Sox were not in the playoffs, which left Ortiz helpless to wield the type of October magic that has become a rite of recent autumns in New England.
That pain was worse than anything Ortiz has felt in his knee or shoulder this year.
"At this point [last October], we were just packing and thinking about what we were going to do in the offseason," said Ortiz. "It was something that kind of killed me. The time off was so much and so long. When you play for a team like this, you're not planning to do things in the offseason until after October."
Ortiz's first plan this offseason will be knee surgery. But that can wait. Ortiz just got a pre-playoff cortisone shot in the right knee and he hopes that will keep the injury in check for a while. If not, he'll play through the pain, just as he has all year.
There are much more enjoyable things in the left-handed masher's future.
This is Ortiz's kind of October. He's back on that stage -- the one where he produced three walk-off hits in the 2004 postseason alone. Lifetime in the postseason, Ortiz is a .301 hitter with eight homers and 32 RBIs.
And he doesn't just have history on his side. Ortiz comes into these playoffs steamrolling with momentum. He hit an eye-popping .396 in September, and it wasn't soft. Also in that mix were nine homers and 27 RBIs.
Boston's big bopper is perhaps hotter than he's been all year. And that's a fact that can't comfort the Angels.
"That's huge. He's the one guy that we're going to lean on a lot," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "It's good when that guy is hot. I think it helps Manny [Ramirez] out, I think it helps myself out; it helps everyone out down the lineup, that's for sure."
Somewhere along the line, a theory abounded that Ortiz was having a down year. But a closer look at the numbers shows a .333 average, 116 runs, 52 doubles, 35 homers, 117 RBIs and just one point behind Alex Rodriguez for the second-highest OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in all of baseball.
"I would say personally this is one of my best offensive years here in Boston, all the way around," Ortiz said. "People just focus on 40 or 50 homers. If I go to the plate and I want to swing for a homer every time, I will. Now, let's see the results. You know what I mean? What happens if I end up with 60 homers and I end up with a .320 on-base percentage and a .240 batting average and 70 runs scored? Did I help my team?
"I think you look at my numbers this year, I think I put it together more than some of the other seasons when people think I had a good season. I'm happy with my season, that's all I have to say."
What Ortiz has done this year is lead with hits, and lead by playing hurt.
"He's been kind of nicked up all along, at least from May on," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He kind of clutched up for us. Numbers-wise, it's not [his best year]. Effort-wise, leadership-wise, it very well may be. He really rose to the occasion when he needed him, and he took some responsibility. I don't think he felt real good all the time, and I don't think he cared. He just went ahead and did his job."
Ortiz's job, of course, is to hit rockets with his bat and come through with the game on the line.
Ortiz has done it so many times before that he might be as confident a hitter as there is in this 2007 postseason.
"Well, in the playoffs, that's when you show how hungry you are," said Ortiz.
In October 2004, Ortiz's hunger turned the fate of a franchise around. The Red Sox were down, 3-0, in their best-of-seven AL Championship Series against the Yankees when Ortiz mashed a walk-off homer in the 12th inning of Game 4. The next day, he sent a little blooper into center field in the bottom of the 14th, sending the series back to New York, where the Red Sox became the first team in MLB history to win a series after trailing 3-0. A week later, they were World Series champions for the first time in 86 years.
Ortiz's heroics from that run are still indelible, as was the way he created them.
"He just never gives at-bats away," said Francona. "So when the moment comes, it's basically the same."
The playoffs, of course, aren't the same. Ortiz knows how different they are, and he hopes to elevate his team again when they need it most.
"This is the payoff for what you did during the whole year," Ortiz said. "That's why you go into the top four [in the American League]. Every little thing that you did through the season, this is when you review it and find out if you did the right thing or the wrong thing."
But the Red Sox don't need to review the old October tapes to remember what Ortiz can do with a season hanging in the balance.
"It's a testament to his ability to lead and to want to win," Francona said. "Some guys have a way of almost willing themselves to the point where they're a factor in the outcome. There are players like that who will themselves to change the game in our favor and he's one of them. It's a nice feeling."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.