McAdam: Ortiz cements himself among Sox greats

McAdam: Ortiz cements himself among Sox greats
October 31, 2013, 9:30 pm
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They did it with beards, ostensibly a silly fashion statement, but one which may have triggered a sort of fraternal, unifying bond.

They did it with nine free agents, collected from throughout the game, and introduced into the clubhouse, with near-perfect affect.

They did it with a new manager, who instilled the proper focus and approach and seemingly won the attention and respect right from the first day of spring training.

And they won with contributions from young players, who helped fill gaps in the second half and, eventually, proved worthy of the big postseason stage.

Still, for all the novelty, the Red Sox are 2013 World Champions because of their longest tenured player, their lone link to this era's first championship team, the ever-dependable and ageless David Ortiz.

Ortiz was so dominant in the six-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that his selection as MVP was perhaps the lone aspect of the Series that lacked suspense.

For all the twists and turns and unprecedented endings, Ortiz's honor was as predictable as the sun rising in the East Thursday Ortiz controlled the Series from the first game and never let go, so much so that Jon Lester's two standout pitching performances in Games 1 and 5 were mere afterthoughts.

(Lester poked fun at his distant runner-up predicament by asking Ortiz is he could pose with the MVP trophy on the field, flashing two fingers to symbolize his second-place finish).

For years, Ortiz has carried the well-earned reputation as one of the game's most clutch hitters based on his performance in the 2004 and 2007 post-seasons when he helped the Sox to their most recent titles.

In the 2004 ALCS alone, when Ortiz first established his legacy, he delivered two walk-off hits, knocked in 11 runs in seven games and fashioned a 1.199 OPS appeared, at the time, a high-water mark for the slugger.

Incredibly, some nine years later at a time when his career should be downshifting, Ortiz found another gear.

In six games, Ortiz made a grand total of five outs and one of those which Carlos Beltran pulled out of the visitor's bullpen, foiling Ortiz's bid for a Game 1 grand slam. When he struck out swinging -- after three walks in his first
three plate appearances, two of them intentional -- in his final at-bat Wednesday night, it momentarily cast a hush over a ballpark revving up to celebrate what was then an assured victory.

In the end, Ortiz posted numbers that were cartoonish: a .688 batting average; a .760 on-base percentage; a 1.188 slugging percentage; and a 1.948 OPS. Ortiz regularly punished St. Louis's young starters and relievers that it was quite literally a case of man against boys.

Basking in his own accomplishments and that of his team on a makeshift stage as midnight beckoned, Ortiz became the first non-Yankee to earn his third championship with the same organization since Jim Palmer (1966, 1970 and 1983) did
so.

At nearly 38, Ortiz is enjoying a rare late-career renaissance. In 2008 and 2009, he seemed near the end, unable to hit lefties at all and the subject of a brief - but real -- internal debate within the organization about whether it was time to release him.

As recently as last July, when he strained his Achilles and missed all but one game over the final 10 weeks of the season, his career again seemed in serious jeopardy, and when he was unable to play a single exhibition game this past March, the wisdom of signing him to a two-year, $26 million deal last November was hotly debated.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, the contract seems like a bargain for the Sox. Ortiz's heel, though aggravated at times, didn't restrict him but for a handful of games after he returned to the lineup in the third week of April.

Moreover, at a time when some teams - including the Los Angeles Dodgers with Red Sox castoff Adrian Gonzalez -- are paying in excess of $20 million per season for power and run production from first base/DH types, the Red Sox are obtaining that level of performance (and better, in most cases) at about two-thirds the cost.

What's more, none of the players whose contracts are paying $20 million annual average value (AAV) is anywhere close to the performer that Ortiz has proven to be in October, when the pitching is toughest and the outcomes more critical.

Having already surpassed Edgar Martinez in virtually every career category for designated hitters, Ortiz has established himself as the greatest DH since the position was introduced some 40 years ago.

But it's also becoming increasingly evident that "best DH ever'' isn't nearly enough praise.

Instead, it's wiser to view Ortiz within the context of the greatest hitters to ever wear a Red Sox uniform, non-Ted Williams Division.

Williams' -- with two Triple Crown seasons, six batting titles, a career OPS of 1.116 and 521 career homers despite missing nearly five full seasons due to injuries and military season -- is indisputably the game's great hitter.

But Ortiz may be rapidly cementing his position as the franchise's second-best all-time hitter, a lofty achievement indeed.