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SEATTLE -- David Ortiz was talking about Jose Bautista, the Toronto Blue Jays' late bloomer who had never hit more than 16 home runs in a season but has 46 in 2010.
It was inevitable, the Boston Red Sox DH said a couple of days ago, that someone will raise suspicions about how Bautista managed to go from journeyman to the game's most prolific slugger.
"They already did," Ortiz said. "Unbelievable. That's what's going to happen for the rest of the history of this game. Whenever a kid comes out and does something like that, they won't believe him. They don't believe that we have the ability to do that no more."
|David Ortiz still flashes his trademark smile with his teammates, but outsiders don't see it as much as they used to.|
Ortiz could just as easily have been speaking about himself as Bautista, his rise from nontendered batsman in Minnesota to icon status in Boston forever altered by the New York Times report last summer that his name was on the list of players who had tested positive for performance-enhancing substances in 2003. Red Sox owner John W. Henry has been Ortiz's most impassioned defender in public, even taking to writing a piece on the NESN website last fall.
Henry asserted that Ortiz was in possession of information that would have been beneficial to his contention that he had never used steroids, but that lawyers argued against disclosure because the information was sealed by court order. So Ortiz was left only able to offer his word that he had not used steroids, and an admission that he might have been "careless" while buying over-the-counter supplements. A skeptical media -- having witnessed a parade of athletes lying under similar circumstances -- questioned Ortiz's veracity. Many media members rejected it outright, a posture that Henry condemned as a terrible injustice to the player.
So Ortiz carries on, in a netherworld of shadows even deeper than those creeping toward Bautista. The cheery persona that was part of Big Papi still surfaces, but not with the same dependability it once did. To his teammates, yes. To outsiders, no.
But for those who question the talent -- and slow starts in each of the last two years, coupled with last summer's tempest, spawned a legion of doubters -- he still answers with his bat. Not the one he cracked over his knee in fury Tuesday night after he popped out in the sixth. The one he used to hit a high-arcing, three-run home run in the eighth inning that lifted the Sox to a 9-6 win over the Seattle Mariners.
It was Ortiz's 30th home run of the season, a meaningful number. Meaningful because it is the first time he has reached that number since 2007, before he hurt his wrist, before the slow starts, before last summer's hurtful headlines. Meaningful because it was the sixth time in his Red Sox career that he has hit at least 30, tying him with Manny Ramirez for second on the team's all-time list.
"Good for him," manager Terry Francona said. "He believed in himself and he has proven it, and that is great to see. There were a lot of people he was probably mad at and I was probably at the top of that list, but he has done a great job."
Only Ted Williams, who has eight, has more seasons of 30 or more homers in a Sox uniform, Can Big Papi catch the Splendid Splinter?
"Why not?" Ortiz said, adding with a laugh, "Tell them to sign me for three more years and I'll do it."
Ortiz is entering the option year of his contract, and while the Sox have given every indication they intend to pick it up, Ortiz, who turns 35 in November, says he'd like an extension.
Of the prospect of more 30-homer seasons, Ortiz said, "I believe I can do it for four more years. If you got it, you got it. Play every day, prepare for your shot, and take your chances. You see the same guy doing it over and over, and today, done."
The components of a 30-home run season are many, he said.
"There are a lot of things you have to put together," he said. "You need to have the skills, you need to have hitters around you, you need to have bat speed and you need to have a good strike zone. You need to have pop all over the place. A lot of things."
In the end, Ortiz said, it takes a rare talent to hit 30 home runs in a season. It is a talent he sees in Bautista, and a talent, he says, that nothing can take away from him, at least until age renders a final verdict.Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.