Friday, September 25, 2009

David Ortiz lives

David Ortiz has more home runs this season than Kevin Youkilis.

Think about that.

Ortiz hit his first home run in mid-May, an occasion that prompted celebration and bad poetry across the lane. It wasn't until his fifth home run of the season that the Fenway Park crowd didn't summon him back for a curtain call to celebrate a feat that once had been routine.

Since June 1, though, Ortiz has 25 home runs -- including a home run in each of his last two games. He's hit six home runs against lefties. He's hit nine home runs on the road. He's hit two home runs on the first pitch, and he's hit two home runs out of a full count. He's hit 14 solo home runs. He's hit 11 two-out home runs. He's hit four home runs in the first inning. He's hit two home runs in the ninth inning.

(He'll have a chance to add to that total this weekend as he takes aim at the short porch in Yankee Stadium's right field.)

He's doing, in short, exactly what Red Sox manager Terry Francona has hoped all season he would do.

"Part of our fight early on was to be patient," he said. "People were calling for David to retire, to pack it in. There were a lot nasty things said about him -- and he had a really bad two months. But to his credit, and I don't know his numbers as well as I should, but I think he's got like 25 home runs (since June 1).

"The other thing that's happened is that we've dropped him in the order, so it's lengthened out our batting order. Youk and Jason Bay and those guys have become mainstays in the middle, and David has hit down a little lower, and it's given us a thicker batting order."

What got a little lost during the slump is that Ortiz all along has given the Red Sox some thickness to the batting order. He hasn't given at-bats away all season. For a team that thrives on wearing down pitchers by grinding out at-bats, Ortiz has remained a key component.

Only five players -- Youkilis, Nick Swisher, Jack Cust, Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu -- have seen more pitches per plate appearance this season than Ortiz's 4.18. That number hasn't fluctuated much, either: Even before he hit his second home run of the season in early June, he still was seeing more than 4.0 pitches per plate appearance.

No Red Sox regular this season -- not Youkilis, not Bay, not Victor Martinez -- has seen fewer pitches in the strike zone this season than Ortiz. Even as the designated hitter was enduring an epic slump, American League pitchers had no desire to challenge him -- and he's now showing why.

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