The Torch Has Been Passed

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The Torch Has Been Passed
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

In last night's game against the Yankees, the Red Sox may have unofficially (at least) witnessed a symbolic passing of the torch, or the baton or, more appropriately, the bat.

Stepping to plate in the 9th inning of a tie game, David Ortiz, who built his reputation as "the most clutch hitter in Red Sox history" feebly struck out. Then he did the same again in the 11th. Sadly, it was part of a trend, not only of the night, but of the newly minted 2009 season.

Ortiz struck an embarrassing four times in six at-bats last night, and entered today's game third in the Majors with 20 whiffs. Mired in a what may be more than merely an early season slump, Big Papi is hitting a paltry .215, which doesn't begin to approach his hefty weight, officially listed at 230 pounds.

Ortiz's problems go back to at least last season, when he suffered through a wrist ailment and hit just .264 with 23 homers and 89 RBI.

Over a three year span from 2004-2006, Ortiz averaged 48 homers and 141 RBI. But in 2007, Ortiz, while having an excellent season by most standards, didn't measure up to his Ruth-like past. Ortiz had 35 homers and 117 RBI, while dealing with a knee injury that most believed had hampered his hitting.

But it was simply the first stage of a decline that accelerated last year and looks downright precipitous this year.

Whereas Ortiz made highlight reel moments routine, and created lifetime memories for Sox fans over his first five years in Boston, this year he simply wilts under pressure -- the very moments he used thrive in.

Into the void leapt Kevin Youkilis. After a career-year in 2008, in which he lead the team in homers (29), RBI (115), and OPS (.959), Youkilis finished third in the MVP voting and established himself as a team leader and one of the game's best all-around hitters.

Last night at Fenway, Youkilis proved that once again, and emphatically established himself as the inheritor of Ortiz's former mantle as the Sox best clutch hitter. In addition, he is now the team's premier power hitter, Jason Bay notwithstanding.

Stepping to the plate in the bottom of the 11th, Youkilis blasted a definitive and decisive shot over the Monster Seats. It was very fitting; Youkilis has surpassed Ortiz as the heart and soul of the Red Sox order. At this point, "Big Youkie" is the team's most potent and dependable power hitter, eclipsing Ortiz and becoming the big bat that Ortiz previously acknowledged the team needed.

In light of that, it's somewhat ironic that the Red Sox miss Ortiz's bat even more than that of Manny Ramirez.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

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