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David Ortiz still proving doubters wrong

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  July 2, 2012 09:40 AM

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David Ortiz is an All-Star again, for the eighth time in nine years, and so by now the thrill is gone. And yet, there is reason to celebrate Ortiz this year as much as any other during his accomplished Red Sox career, the message he will deliver in Kansas City next week identical to the one he has been delivering in Boston for years now.

I'm back, boys.

Quite simply, David Ortiz just will not go away.

In that way, Ortiz is the perfect representative for this particular edition of the Red Sox, who escaped Safeco Field on Sunday with a 2-1, extra-inning victory (their first of the year) over the Seattle Mariners to salvage a four-game series split. The Red Sox are 42-37, once again a season-high five games over .500, and they continue to hover in the American League playoff race like an unwelcome party guest.

Fittingly, the game-winning RBI on Sunday came from Ortiz, who delivered Ryan Kalish from third base with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th inning. The RBI was Ortiz' 58th of the season and put him on pace for 119 RBI, the kind of number he hasn't seen since 2007.

"He's the reason we're still in it, basically," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia told reporters of Ortiz. "David has meant everything to us this season."

Actually, Ortiz has meant even more. On the field. Off the field. And everywhere in between.

Let's remember where we were just three years ago, when Ortiz got off to a positively dreadful start that had him batting .188 with one home run and 21 RBI on the morning of June 6. He finished the year at .238. The Ortiz of that season was in the third year of a four-year, $52-million contract, which means that was the last time he played with any type of longer-term contractual security.

The point is that Ortiz has been playing for his career (and salary) ever since, and he has fought for it. Whether or not Ortiz likes the fact that he has been limited to short-term contracts is irrelevant. In the cycle of a baseball player's life, every man eventually reaches the point where he has to play for his spot again. None of them like it. But some succeed and some don't.

Since May 1, 2010, among all players with at least 1,000 at-bats, Ortiz ranks sixth in the major leagues in slugging percentage, ahead of such names as Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols and Matt Kemp. He ranks ninth in on-base percentage. This year, he ranks sixth in the entire major leagues in OPS.

Meanwhile, on a roster filled with multimillionaires and high-profile players, no one else on the Red Sox toting either a multiyear contract or an eight-figure salary has come close to really earning his money.

What this all has meant for the Red Sox is indisputable. With Game 81 of their season scheduled for Tuesday night in Oakland, the Red Sox are a measly half-game behind the Baltimore Orioles for the fifth and final playoff spot in the American League. A measly half-game. The Red Sox are on pace for just 86 wins at the moment, but the potential return of injured players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Andrew Bailey, among others, has put them in position for a far better second half than first.

At the very least, Ellsbury and Crawford should help the Red Sox against righthanded starters, versus whom the Red Sox are still just 24-28. Presumably, Bailey should help the bullpen. If and when Daniel Bard gets straightened out - which seems debatable at this point - there is also the possibility for late-inning help there.

And if general manager Ben Cherington can actually add a reasonably reliable starter before the July 31 trading deadline, well, there is the potential for some upgrade there, too.

In the interim, know this: the Red Sox are 24-8 this season when Ortiz knocks in at least one run; in their last 19 games, they are 17-2. During an extended weekend in Seattle where runs were in scarce supply, it should surprise no one that the Red Sox' two runs were generated by Pedroia and Ortiz, the two positional players in the Boston lineup who have any real history of winning anything. Pedroia tied the game. Ortiz won it.

For a Red Sox team that has been teetering around .500 for much of the season, the value of every win is inflated. In the 17 seasons the wild card has been in existence, the fifth-best team in the American League (or the club that would have qualified for the second wild card spot being introduced this year) has produced 89 wins. In the first seven years of the wild card, the number was actually 87. In the last 10 years, it has been slightly north of 90. (Precisely, 90.3.)

For these Red Sox, consequently, every win means something, whether it be for a modest four-game split in Seattle or a sweep in Texas. During the regular season, they all count the same. And so what the Red Sox are doing now is to simply follow the lead of the man who has been their best player, their only All-Star, their identity in a season characterized by injuries and internal strife, perceived or otherwise.

But then, maybe David Ortiz is doing more than just hanging around.

Maybe he is simply proving people wrong.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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