Senor Octubre: Big Papi vital to October hopes

Evan Brunell@evanbrunellFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2008

Don’t underestimate the impact David Ortiz will have on this team in the postseason. The photo you see above was created by yours truly in 2004 after their magical run, and it’s this photo that tells me not to count him out just yet. Fresh off cranking two bombs and almost three, Ortiz now has 21 home runs on the season in a year which he entered last night batting.

262/. 371/. 486. It’s slated to be Ortiz’s worst year as a Red Sox and is just barely better than his final year in Minnesota. Much of the story can be found in his April, in which he was mired in a horrific slump. He went .198/. 300/. 375 for the month and started digging his way out in May to the tune of a .318/. 409/. 617 line, more in line with what we thought he could do.

Big Papi continued his hot ways in June, hitting .391/. 423/. 609 in six games before going down with a wrist injury. Returning near the beginning of August, he struggled to regain his power stroke and started walking an unbelievable amount following the departure of Manny Ramirez.

He finished the month at .278/. 426/. 464. Before last night, September had him checking in at .218/. 306/. 473 as he made it known that he’s concerned over the state of his wrist, saying that he feels “clicking” in the wrist and will have it looked at in the off-season. It’s not causing him any discomfort, but it’s been a cause for concern.

Is it anymore? He’s hammered three home runs in three games and has 14 RBI in his last 11 games. Much like Josh Beckett is rounding into form for October, is David Ortiz doing the same? With Ortiz providing home run punch like normal, this lineup suddenly becomes a lot more powerful (obviously).

While pitchers will continue to take the bat out of his hands by walking him, he will still find opportunities to drive the ball out of the park and perhaps put the team on his shoulders like he has so many times in the past. Right now the Red Sox look like they’re stumbling.

Tim Wakefield has been uncharacteristically hittable lately (even for him) and the relievers just aren’t getting it done, but most of the gasoline in the bullpen belongs to pitchers that won’t be on the roster in October. (Hello, Chris Smith, David Pauley and Mike Timlin.)

The offense is still marching along, but it’s been done without the presence of Ortiz for seemingly the entire year. The effect of confidence in Ortiz by himself and his teammates is incalculable, and Ortiz’s lack of prodigious power has been an underlying current that was bringing the team down.

Two days ago, when Ortiz came up in a meaningful spot, my friend loudly proclaimed him overrated. (He was joking, just like he was when he contended Julio Lugo was one of the better players on the team.) He didn’t joke, however, when he then commented that he feels more comfortable with Dustin Pedroia up at the plate than David Ortiz. You can’t really argue with that.

 The statistics bear it out. After all, Dustin Pedroia’s the one being talked about as a dark horse MVP candidate, not Big Papi. I’m sure Big Papi would freely admit it himself, and Ozzie Guillen has mentioned his aversion to pitching to Pedroia, preferring to pitch to Ortiz instead.

It’s not a state secret that Pedroia’s the more damaging weapon at this point. However, I’ve seen David Ortiz at the pinnacle of his game. I’ve seen what he can do. How he can impact a game. The fear he brings to the opposing team, the way the team rallies around him.

He has a larger than life presence and while many others and I may be more comfortable with Dustin Pedroia up at the plate than Ortiz right now, there’s no one else I want at the plate in a tight spot in late-inning October baseball other than David Americo Ortiz Arias. There’s a reason one of his nicknames is Senor Octubre.

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