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10/15/08 3:16 PM ET

With Papi contained, Sox feel sting

Rays aren't letting slugger's past heroics become factor in ALCS

BOSTON -- David Ortiz is not in a good place. Obviously, the Rays want to keep him there.

complete postseason coverage
Ortiz's slumping production remains the most conspicuous symbol of the fix in which the Red Sox find themselves. Trailing the American League Championship Series 3-1, their reign as defending World Series champs could end as soon as Thursday night's Game 5.

Since landing in Boston for the 2003 season, Ortiz has gained near-legendary status as a clutch hitter of frightening proportions. Come October, he would even step up his heroics.

This dance, however, is a different story.

Ortiz is batting .161 this postseason, with just five hits in 31 at-bats. That includes his 1-for-14 effort vs. the Rays. He has no homers, and just one RBI, which was against the Angels in the AL Division Series.

Coming into this postseason, Ortiz had rightfully earned the name as "The Greatest Clutch Hitter in Red Sox History." In four postseasons with Boston, two of which the Red Sox won World Series titles, Ortiz hit a combined .317 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs.

While Ortiz isn't alone in struggling vs. Tampa Bay, the attention of the media has certainly centered on Big Papi.

As far as the Rays are concerned, they've kept it simple. Their pitchers have a game plan, and they've executed it perfectly -- pitching him "backwards," meaning they start him off with breaking pitches and go to the heat later in the count.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon says they have a detailed plan for every aspect of their approach to the Red Sox -- and credits that preparation to pitching coach Jim Hickey and his assistant, Brian Anderson -- and lumps Ortiz with "everybody else on this team."

ALCS production
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is no stranger to the ALCS, posting a .288 average in 30 games.

"To this point, our pitchers have thrown the ball where they wanted to on a pretty consistent basis," Maddon said, specifically addressing the handling of Ortiz, "and I'd like to see that trend continue, obviously.

"But that fellow right there, I've said it before, I have all the respect in the world for him, and things could turn quickly, so you can't let up and you can't assume anything."

Boston manager Terry Francona has consistently taken the same upside approach to Ortiz's struggles.

"I've been around David long enough to know that can change with one swing of the bat, and that's part of having guys like David," Francona said. "The other team still has to respect that even when they're not swinging like they're capable."

In a sense, Ortiz is like everyone else looking in from the outside: He sees himself as being responsible for Boston's offensive funk, and by trying to do too much to cure it, has dug himself into a deeper trench.

Ortiz alluded to as much following Tuesday night's 13-4 drubbing, saying it's tough to be a one-man momentum swinger.

"The problem is," Ortiz said, "everyone is focused on Papi not hitting. I'll tell you the truth, in both series, Papi does not come up with men on base all the time. So I'm not going to change the game when we're losing by nine, 10 runs."

In the four games against the Rays, Ortiz has come to bat with eight men on base. Actually, one man, Dustin Pedroia, eight times. Twice Pedroia has been in scoring position for Ortiz, who has yet to get him home.

Ortiz has gone 27 at-bats without driving in a run. He also hasn't homered in 45 at-bats, going back to a Sept. 22 blow against Cleveland.

And here is possibly the most telling trend: In 31 at-bats, Ortiz has struck out only eight times, meaning he is making consistent contact. But he has hit fly balls out of the infield only seven times, meaning he is simply not driving the ball.

To a lot of people, that suggests -- disclaimers to the contrary -- that his left wrist is not strong. Others wonder if Ortiz is seeing the ball well.

Regardless of the reasons, Ortiz is not where he wants to be. And he's exactly where Tampa Bay wants him.

Ortiz's postseason
For various reasons, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is struggling this postseason.
Iconic Moment
2002 ALDSA's *W, 3-1.23102G5: RBI double with two outs in top of 9th for winning run in 5-4 clincher
2002 ALCSAngels *L, 4-1.31302
2003 ALDSA's W, 3-2.09502G4: Turn-around two-run double in bottom of 9th for 5-4 win
2003 ALCSYankeesL, 4-3.26926G7: Homer in top of 8th to push Pedro's ill-fated lead to 5-2
2004 ALDSAngelsW, 3-0.54514G3: Walk-off two-run homer in bottom of 10th off Jarrod Washburn
2004 ALCSYankeesW, 4-3.387311G4: Walk-off two-run homer in bottom of 10th off Paul Quantrill for turn-around 6-4 win
 G5: Walk-off RBI single in bottom of 14th off Esteban Loaiza for 5-4 win
 G7: two-run homer in top of 1st off Kevin Brown to detonate 10-3 KO
2004 WSCardinalsW, 4-0.30814G1: 3-run homer in bottom of 1st off Woody Williams to trigger 11-9 win and sweep
2005 ALDSWhite SoxL, 3-0.33311
2007 ALDSAngelsW, 3-0.71423G1: two-run homer in bottom of 3rd off John Lackey for 4-0 lead and start of sweep
2007 ALCSIndiansW, 4-3.29213
2007 WSRockiesW, 4-0.33304 
2008 ALDSAngelsW, 3-1.23501G2: Leadoff double in top of 9th off Francisco Rodriguez to trigger two-run rally for 7-5 win
2008 ALCSRaysTrailing, 3-1.07100 
Totals .2951143 
-- * While a member of the Twins

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.