Tell me you saw this coming. Aging star player ends the 2012 season by missing 72 of the last 73 games due to injury. His body does not heal over the winter. He misses all of spring training. After the 2013 Major League season starts he is sent out on a rehab assignment in AAA. He bats below his hefty weight.
Then the moment he returns to the majors he batters pitchers as if all they throw up to the plate is cupcakes. For a little while, at least, he hits the ball better than he ever has in his life. At age 37. After what seems like a forever-long layoff. There is no rational explanation for David Ortiz‘s triumphant return to the Boston Red Sox lineup this month.
Big Papi has been carrying a bigger war club than Fred Flintstone since he reappeared as the designated hitter in the Red Sox lineup eight games ago. He is batting .516. Most players couldn’t hit .516 off a tee for a week. His on-base percentage is .529 and he has 11 RBIs.
Like Mark Twain, the reports of Ortiz’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Still, at his age, after Achilles tendon injuries–essentially limping on both feet–if anything, Red Sox rooters at best probably pictured Ortiz easing into the lineup gradually, not exploding like a Roman candle.
After day after day of producing the key hit or the big run, Ortiz ran out of words to describe his own success and told sportswriters to just quote him over again on what he said the day before because he had no better explanation. He is totally dialed in at the plate and while every human being reacts differently to stressful circumstances Ortiz is also going through a divorce, something that might distract a man.
The amazing fact is that if Ortiz had announced at the end of the 2012 season that he didn’t believe he could come back from his injury and he was going to retire, the Red Sox would not have wept. For a couple of years now team management has wondered how long Ortiz could keep up his superb power hitting. They didn’t want to be on the hook owing him millions of dollars when time ran out.
Big Papi proved himself all over again during the first half of the 2012 season when few expected him to wield the same bat of yore. In 90 games Ortiz swatted 23 homers, drove in 60, batted .318 and his on-base percentage was .415. What’s not to like about that?
So even though Ortiz was not back to 100 percent, last November he signed a two-year, $26 million contract. This seemed a bit odd because the Red Sox were coming off of their worst season in ages and planned to rip up the team and start fresh with a lot of new guys–which they did. Most thought they would take a serious run at free agent Josh Hamilton and although it seems as if they did make a pass at Hamilton they ended up passing on Hamilton.
There were some shudders among Sox fans when the team committed to Ortiz for two more years, as popular as he is in Boston. That was because no one really knew if he would he able to come back strong. He has played shockingly well, although we all know it can’t last because no one hits .500 except fictional characters in boys books. It’s just fun right now.
What Ortiz has done, though, is help the Red Sox put together the best record in the majors as the first month of the season comes to an end. That, too, is a fairly shocking performance for predictors that felt the Sox would be stuck in the middle of the American League East pack. And just maybe that won’t come to an end.