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Tough to close book on Big Papi

David Ortiz’s dismay at grounding into double play in the eighth is evident. David Ortiz’s dismay at grounding into double play in the eighth is evident. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 5, 2010

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Volume X, Chapter 27: Is David Ortiz done?

Sorry for the repetition. You’ve read this story before. The manager is tired of the questions. The players really don’t want to hear it and are making fun of poll questions on websites. We all know Ortiz is struggling. Maybe it’s beyond that now. Hard to describe what it is, but one word is painful. Another is sad.

Last night he struck out twice and hit into two double plays. Jeremy Hermida got him off the hook after Ortiz hit into the shift for a 4-2-3 DP with the bases loaded and nobody out in a 1-1 tie in the eighth and couldn’t get the run in.

Hermida broke the deadlock with a three-run double on a fly to left field on which Juan Rivera heard his GPS say “Turn around when possible.’’

The Red Sox won, so it’s hard to embrace a negative story on an otherwise positive night. The Sox got a brilliant pitching performance by Jon Lester, a tremendous clutch defensive play by Dustin Pedroia late in the game, and the big, two-out, bases-loaded-clearing hit by Hermida.

When asked about Ortiz, Pedroia tried to inject some humor — and defended his teammate.

“David’s fine,’’ Pedroia said. “He’s one of our teammates. It could have been me that hit into a double play. It happens to everybody, man. He’s had 60 at-bats. A couple years ago I had 60 at-bats, I was hitting .170, everyone was ready to kill me too. What happened? Laser show. Relax. I’m tired of looking at the NESN poll: ‘Why is David struggling?’ David’s fine. We believe in him. He came out of it last year, he’s going to come out of it this year. Put that in your poll. I’m going to go online and vote. Papi’s fine. Thanks for playing.’’

Well done. For all the talk the Sox might be a team lacking chemistry, that appears far from the case.

Yet despite his best efforts, Pedroia’s comments may not be based in reality. Yes, Ortiz came out of it last year and he might come out of it again, but the leash is much shorter. There’s an alternative — Mike Lowell — who is red-hot. But we’ve written that story before, too.

And so the same old story starts out with the same old questions to which we’re getting the same old answers.

Will Terry Francona address the Ortiz situation further today? With righthander Joel Pineiro pitching for the Angels, it’s likely Ortiz will be the DH again. There’s no question Ortiz’s playing time has been limited to righthanded pitchers, but again last night, Lowell doubled as a pinch hitter, his fifth straight hit the last two games. The latest NESN poll asks what the Red Sox should do with Lowell and more than 74 percent indicated he should play every day. OK, can’t let the fans run the team, but the longer this goes on the more it seems that fans want some closure soon.

Francona, forever loyal to his players, said what he has said before, “We’ve done some things that are different [platooning him], but at the same time we’re not running away from David. That’s not the best answer. We need him to hit as opposed to running away from him.’’

Would he be in there tonight?

Francona used his familiar line that he doesn’t have to make out the lineup for the next day moments after a game.

Ortiz didn’t address the media, but the way he looked after each of his at-bats told of the frustration he is feeling.

If the Sox don’t want to cut ties maybe they should give Ortiz a mental health break.

The Celtics used to have the Hellenic Flu, and the Red Sox surely could come up with something creative to give Ortiz a break from it all. You can tell this is absolutely eating the big guy up inside. He’s not his usual jovial self. He’s pressing. From the second game of the season when reporters brought up his tough start, it hasn’t gotten much better.

He had a two-homer night in Baltimore last Saturday, which is the crowning moment of his season so far. But since then he’s reverted back to a hitter who seems lost, who doesn’t have a chance at the plate. Who knows if he’s struggling with personal issues. His father was sick last year and he worried about his health. There was a story going around about his wrist bothering him that started when a Twins player leaked it to a Minneapolis reporter, but Ortiz denied it.

You hope it’s something like that rather than his being all done.

Every so often there’s a breakthrough and we wonder, “OK, he’s turned the corner . . . ’’ Ah, but then there are a few games of not a chance.

One wouldn’t want to cut ties and then watch him suddenly find the fountain of youth with another team and start to perform like the player of old. You want to give Ortiz the benefit of the doubt because he’s a player of great stature with this franchise who had some of the biggest hits in team history, helping to win two championships. So there’s loyalty there, and what’s wrong with that?

So Red Sox management isn’t kicking him out the door after every bad game? There’s nothing wrong with that either.

Can Lowell play every day?

“I’ll go back to that day in spring training when I held court for about an hour and a half, that I had no indication why this year should be different than last year,’’ he said.

Lowell said he feels for Ortiz because “I’ve had some terrible stretches. We all have.’’

Ortiz is hitting .149 through 67 at-bats. He’s got three homers and six RBIs. He’s struck out 25 times. He came up several times with runners on last night. None scored.

It’s the same story.

With the same nonresolution.

Until next time.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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