Bob Ryan, Globe Columnist wrote:
On the 13th day, Papi rested.
The Big Fella has gone as low as he can go. Statistically speaking, David Ortiz is the least productive batter in all of major league baseball, at least among those who actually have a pulse, or who don't play for the Tigers.
No, seriously, folks. Papi is looking up at everyone. He is hitting worse than all those slick-fielding shortstops who ought to be hitting 10th. He is hitting worse than all those anonymous backup catchers, the ones who get an extra-base hit every third week or so and who get around the bases as if carrying the entire Kentucky Derby field on their backs.
He's hitting .070. He's slugging .140. He's a complete and utter mess.
So it's not as if Terry Francona had much of a choice. Yankee game or no Yankee game, the skipper did not write the name of Ortiz into his lineup last night.
"I said yesterday I hoped David would get started today, and it didn't happen," Francona said long before the Sox finished off their 8-5 defeat of the Yankees.
"It happens," Ortiz said with a shrug. "It happened to me before," alluding to a situation back in 2003, before he became a megastar.
Rather than prepare himself to face young Phil Hughes, Papi went to work with batting coach Dave Magadan. Somehow or other, the two must find a solution.
"You know, just trying to figure things out for a minute so I can go back to being Big Papi," Ortiz said.
Lately, Ortiz has been painful to watch. This isn't one of those cases where he's been hitting the ball hard but unable to find a hole. He's not himself. He's just not having good at-bats. He has rendered useless the concept of a "hitter's count." He either takes pitches he used to crush or he makes poor contact. And it goes without saying that he is not exactly in synch with the umpires over what is and isn't a strike.
After his Saturday 0-fer made him 0 for 17 and 1 for 29, Francona made up his mind. Papi was going to get a day off.
"When I came back up here after the game last night, I touched bases with David real quick, and I mean real quick," Francona explained. "I just think it's the right thing to do."
Francona never would spring something as monumental as taking Ortiz out of the lineup for the 13th game of the season without telling him in advance. John McGraw might have done that to George Kelly, or the notoriously impersonal Casey Stengel might have done that to Mickey Mantle, but that's not the way modern managers go about their business. In the 21st century, there's a right way and a wrong way to treat people.
"If I didn't tell him, he might go home and be thinking," Francona said. About what, we can only imagine. "It's done to help him," the manager continued. "He can take a deep breath, work on some things with Mags, and not have the responsibility of the first at-bat."
"You see this in baseball," Ortiz pointed out. "A guy having a hard time, go home, chill out, come back with a fresh mind. It happens to everybody. And I guess that's when managers know when they need to bring something like that to the table. I always do what Terry tells me to do. I'm an employee."
Maybe so, but there are Red Sox employees and there are Red Sox employees, if you know what I mean. Big Papi is fairly high up on the food chain. The welfare of those routine employees will depend, in large measure, on how soon, and how well, Papi solves his current puzzle.
Oh, yes. The $64,000 Question. Can Papi's plate woes be in any way traced to his surgically repaired right knee? Inquiring minds want to know.
"I don't think that's part of it," Francona said.
Just about every batter who ever has played major league baseball has had trouble picking up the ball as it leaves the hand of some pitcher. That's just the way it is. But Ortiz is suffering through an unprecedented personal experience in which he doesn't seem to be seeing the ball well from anybody, whether the opposing pitcher is tall, short, skinny, fat, coming from over the top or sidearm, whether he's domestic or international, whether he's a Democrat or Republican, whether he's a carnivore or a vegan, or whether he throws righthanded or lefthanded.
To say that all this leads to an uncharacteristic indecisiveness at the plate is to say that Hank Steinbrenner will not be addressing the next meeting of the Bosox Club.
"Obviously, you need good mechanics to hit, and you can't have good mechanics if you don't see the ball well out of the hand," said Francona.
So how can a batting instructor help someone see the ball better? Hey, isn't that why he's a batting instructor, and the rest of us just sit and watch?
The truth is these things can happen to anybody. Remember just how futile A-Rod was in the beginning of the '04 season? It was 1 for 17, by the way. Manny Ramírez has gone into a few funks in his day.
But this thing Big Papi's in is pretty extreme.
What everyone knows is that it will end. Ortiz has not forgotten how to hit. It all will click in again. At least, that's the way Francona sees it. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and Big Papi's gotta have an OPS over 1.000.
"Good hitters get to their level," Francona said. "Watching David get to his level is going to be fun."
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org