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Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Papi's performance speaks for itself

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- So, while most of us marvel at David Ortiz's remarkable start, especially since he missed all of spring training, and one columnist (Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe) confronted him about steroid suspicions, a couple of stories for a little historical perspective.

In 1954, Ted Williams fractured his collarbone on the first day of spring training and missed all of camp. He made his first appearance in the Sox lineup as a substitute on May 15, and the next day made his first starts, in a doubleheader at Detroit.

Williams went 8-for-9 in the two games, with two home runs and seven RBIs. Through his first 15 games, Williams, who was 35 at the time, hit .426 (20-for-47), had an OPS of 1.336, and hit four home runs.

David Ortiz
David Ortiz has been slowed by injury at times, but not by age.

Impressed? The year before, Williams was flying missions over Korea and returned to the Red Sox in August. This after missing all but six games in 1952 while he was at war. He practiced 10 days, then hit a home run in the eighth inning in his first game back. For the rest of the 1953 season, Williams batted .407 (37-for-91) with 13 home runs, 34 RBIs and an OPS of 1.410.

One other story. In 1938, Joe DiMaggio held out from spring training in a contract dispute. The Yankees offered him $25,000. He wanted $40,000. He missed all of camp, but in his first 15 games he hit .390 with six home runs and 13 RBIs.

Take the stories for what they're worth. Clearly we are referencing more innocent times, but in the case of at least two Hall of Famers, missing spring training and hitting at a phenomenal rate at the start of the season are not mutually exclusive events.

Ortiz began play Wednesday night having hit safely in all 15 games he had played this season, batting .414 (24-for-58) with four home runs and 17 RBIs, and if you go back to last season, he had hit safely in a career-best 27 games, batting .423 in that span, with a .504 on-base average, six home runs and 23 RBIs.

But the streak ended in Wednesday's15-8 loss to the Twins, as Ortiz endured an 0-for-5 night.

It was by far his longest streak ever to start a season -- he hit in six straight at the start of the 2005 season -- and it was the longest hitting streak by a Sox player at the start of a season since Tony Pena hit in 15 straight in 1990.

Before that, you have to go back to shortstop Eddie Bressoud, who hit in 20 straight at the start of the 1964 season (.369, 31-for-84).

Ortiz fell one game short of the longest streak of the 2013 season -- Seattle's Kyle Seager hit in 16 straight in April.

Shane Victorino is in his first year with the Red Sox, and while he certainly knew Ortiz, he had spent little time around him, having played exclusively in the National League until this season. On Tuesday, before the latest steroid talk surfaced in the Boston Globe, Victorino talked about what impressed him about Ortiz.

"What he's done in this short month for me, I can't believe some of the stuff he does," Victorino said. "You know, I was hurt the last week or so, and I'd be sitting in here with him talking about baseball, and he looks up and says, 'I got to hit now.' Walks out there and hits.

"But he prepares himself, too. Mentally, he understands that -- sitting in the dugout, talking in the dugout, sitting downstairs, taking a couple of swings, then walking out to the plate. I've always said being a DH is not an easy job. I've tried it a couple of times, but to do it with such consistency and over such a long period of time, and continue to do it at his age, it's amazing."

Hall of Fame?

"Hands down," Victorino said. "It's hard, because people don't want to give credit to a DH, but what this guy has done -- this guy has 400-plus home runs, he has a chance for 500 homers, as a guy who didn't play in the field every day. And people don't want to give him credit for that? I understand, but as a player, trust me, I think it's harder to sit on the bench for nine innings. I couldn't do it. No way I could sit. I'd have to do something physically.

"That, to me, is what makes it even more impressive."

Last week in Toronto, John Farrell was asked how Ortiz compared as a hitter to when Farrell was in Boston the first go-round, from 2007 to 2010. "Better," Farrell said.

On Wednesday, he elaborated.

"It starts with his work routine leading up to BP," Farrell said, "and then what he sets out to accomplish every day on the field pregame. You rarely see him look to drive the ball out of the ballpark. He uses the whole field. For the first two rounds, he tries to pepper the left-field foul pole, which is clearly staying inside the ball and giving him full plate coverage.

"And when you look at what he has been able to do against left-handed pitching the last two years [.323, 103-for-319, 17 home runs, including this season], whether that was through conversation with Adrian Gonzalez and his approach against lefties -- I do know there were conversations that took place, I'm not saying that's the whole reason -- but he's matured and gotten better with time.

"And when you see how he goes about his work day, there's nothing artificial that has led him to the success that he has had."

In his column Wednesday, Shaughnessy engaged Ortiz in a back-and-forth on steroids and how in many ways Ortiz fit the profile of a cheater, especially because he is performing at such a high level at his current age, 37. Shaughnessy never directly accused him of using steroids but told Ortiz he should expect people to be suspicious.

"You are never going to make everybody happy, bro," Ortiz told him. "That's the bottom line. If you struggle, it's bad. If you do well, it's bad, too.

"I don't care. I don't got nothing to hide, bro. Testing is not my problem. Being tested -- I ask to go in to get it done. I got no problem with that. I'm not going to screw everything that I have done in my career because I test positive for steroids. That's not going to happen.

"If I can't get it done anymore because I can't get it done? I go home. But not because of that [expletive]. I guarantee you that later, you are not going to find out that I tested positive for some [expletive]. It's not happening. Guaranteed. Guaranteed."