Remember that movie a few years ago called This is 40? I like the David Ortiz version better.
It’s only May but if Father Time wants to keep his unbeaten streak alive, he’ll have to do better than this. Big Papi put on a clinic Sunday, gashing the Indians for four hits and three RBI as the Red Sox rolled to a 5-2 win in the series finale at Fenway Park.
Ortiz upped the degree of difficulty by homering off Danny Salazar, who entered Sunday’s game with a stellar 1.80 ERA. With the game still relatively close, Indians manager Terry Francona signaled for Zach McAllister to intentionally walk Ortiz in his next at-bat. Ortiz gave his old manager the death stare on his way to first base.
Ortiz had a chance to hit for the cycle but came up short when his drive to center field in the eighth inning bounced before landing in the seats for a ground-rule double. Even though Ortiz tripled last week and the triangle out in center field is famously unpredictable, I’m not so sure he would have made it to third (though Jerry Remy seemed pretty convinced). Either way, four hits at this age is pretty remarkable. Which begs the question, should Ortiz reconsider his retirement plans?
Through 40 games, Ortiz is hitting an eye-popping .329 with 11 homers and 37 RBI. That puts him on pace for 41 homers and 136 RBI, which would be his best marks since 2006. That was the year Ortiz slugged a career-best 54 round-trippers while finishing third in American League MVP voting behind Derek Jeter and the eventual winner Justin Morneau. As of this writing, Ortiz leads the majors in slugging percentage (.684), OPS (1.092) and doubles (19). Those are Mike Trout numbers. Actually, they’re better than Trout’s numbers (.321, 10 HR, 31 RBI).
But I think the “too good to quit” argument cuts both ways. Isn’t it the perfect time for Ortiz to ride off into the sunset? Think of all the great athletes who hung on too long: Derek Jeter, Brett Favre, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning. Right now, Ortiz is in a rare position of strength. He can go out on his own terms, leaving the sport on a high note instead of leaving us with a bad taste in our mouths. 2016 is Ortiz’s victory lap, the cherry on top of a brilliant career. And besides, wouldn’t it be awkward if Ortiz had to give back all those retirement gifts?
If Ortiz comes back he’ll be doing it for the same reason most guys keep playing: the paycheck. The Red Sox hold a $10 million club option for Ortiz in 2017, which makes it relatively easy for him to change his mind. Ortiz also has a chance to further his place among the greatest hitters of all-time. Sunday he passed Barry Bonds for 13th on the all-time doubles list while simultaneously moving ahead of Gary Sheffield for 27th in RBI. Ortiz is still inching his way up the home run ladder (he’s seven dingers away from moving into the top 20) and will surely hit plenty more milestones as the year goes on. If the Hall of Fame means something to Ortiz, adding another year of accomplishments to his resume won’t hurt his chances.
Watching Ortiz, I still think this is it for him. Papi has been battling Achilles issues for years and at this point it’s almost painful to watch him run the bases. He didn’t even try to run on this play at home plate the other day. As physically taxing as a 162-game season can be, the real grind comes before the season starts. We forget about all the hard work players put in before and during spring training. That’s something Ortiz won’t miss much.
Obviously there’s no promise that Ortiz can keep this up. Chipper Jones got off to a similarly hot start in his final season before fading down the stretch (.318 in the first half compared to .262 after the break). Fatigue could certainly come into play, though Ortiz has actually hit better in the second half each of the last two seasons. In fact, he’s hit an astounding .326 with 33 blasts and 102 RBI since the start of the second half last year.
The Ortiz retirement debate is a little self-serving, isn’t it? Ortiz has never wavered on his decision yet we’ve continued to talk it up as if there’s any real chance that Ortiz will change his mind. I think that’s because it’s hard for us to imagine a world without David Ortiz. He’s been a constant source of entertainment for us with his bat flips, clutch home runs, NSFW speeches, complete disregard for dugout phones, and of course, his big heart. The Red Sox have a strong core of young players and should be good for years to come, but there’s no one that can replace Ortiz and all he’s brought to the city of Boston and its fans.
Even with Ortiz doing most of the heavy lifting Sunday, Jackie Bradley still found a way to grab headlines. Bradley carved a single to right field in the fifth inning, extending his hitting streak to 27 games. He’s one game away from tying Miller Lite enthusiast Wade Boggs for the fourth-longest streak in team history. Bradley was only a .213 career hitter when the year began. This season he’s hit .342 including .423 in the month of May. He trails only Xander Bogaerts for the league-lead in batting average.
Boston’s offense deserves plenty of credit for the team’s hot start, but let’s not forget about Craig Kimbrel. Fans were understandably skeptical after the Red Sox traded a huge prospect haul to get him following a career-worst year in San Diego. Kimbrel endured a couple brutal outings early in the season but has been lights out in May with a perfect 0.00 ERA over eight appearances. He even touched triple digits on the radar gun Sunday in a nine-pitch save against Cleveland. The four-time All-Star has notched 12 saves this year, which puts him in a four-way tie for the AL lead. The Red Sox gambled on Kimbrel, but so far he’s been as good as advertised.
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