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A Long and Winding Road

June 15, 2009
June 15, 2009

Table of Contents
June 15, 2009

LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
LAKERS-MAGIC
  • Kobe Bryant was the center of attention as the Lakers and the Magic faced off for the NBA title, but it was a less glamorous story line—the chess match under the basket—that was determining the course of the Finals

TENNIS
STANLEY CUP FINALS
PRO FOOTBALL
  • He meets with former presidents, counsels the U.N. and, oh, yeah, makes more than any NFL player, but Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha can still walk unrecognized through America's biggest city. Not for much longer

BASEBALL
JEFF KOMLO
Departments

A Long and Winding Road

How did David Ortiz go from stud to dud? Tracking a megaslump, one day at a time

• July 25, 2008
Ortiz returns to the Red Sox lineup after missing 45 games with a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist. "It's like making a huge trade at the deadline," says Boston outfielder J.D. Drew. "His impact will be immediate."

This is an article from the June 15, 2009 issue

• Aug. 5
After going 10 for 38 with one homer in his first 10 games, Ortiz tells reporters he's bothered by a clicking sound in his wrist when he swings. "It gets in your head," he says. "Should I take another swing? Should I hold it?"

• Oct. 19
The Red Sox lose to the Rays in Game 7 of the ALCS, ending a disappointing season in which Ortiz slugged .507 with an on-base percentage of .369—his lowest numbers since joining Boston in '03—and batted .186 in the playoffs. Says Ortiz, "I tried my best, but it's not going to be roses and flowers all the time."

• Feb. 16, 2009
Ortiz arrives in spring training and pronounces himself healthy. "I'm fine, my hand is doing good," he says.

• April 17 (.176, 0 HRs, 3 RBIs)
The 230-pound Ortiz gets teased in the clubhouse by Red Sox Hall of Famer Jim Rice: "You're supposed to hit your weight, you know." Ortiz laughs, goes to his locker and returns with a T-shirt. "I don't know if you know how to read," he says to Rice, "but read this." The shirt's message: IT'S NOT HOW YOU START, IT'S HOW YOU FINISH.

• April 20 (.196, 0 HRs, 6 RBIs)
Ortiz fires back at a growing number of columnists and talk-show callers suggesting he's washed up and the Red Sox should cut ties with him. "I'm not done," he says. "I'm going to hit, so the people need to stop panicking."

• May 4 (.208, 0 HRs, 12 RBIs)
Ortiz admits that his slump has taken a psychological toll. "[I need to] clean up my head and go out there and not try to go too crazy," he tells The New York Times, adding that the ordeal is "something that the baseball gods want to teach me," to show him that hitting is "not as easy as you make it look, big boy."

• May 10 (.224, 0 HRs, 14 RBIs)
After ESPN cameras catch him screaming with frustration in the dugout, Ortiz says he receives more than 50 calls and text messages from fellow major leaguers telling him to stay strong. "[Carlos] Delgado and I, we talked for like an hour," he says, referring to the Mets' first baseman, who endured a horrible slump in April 2008 and rebounded to finish with 38 home runs. "Last year, when he was going through all that, I was one of the guys really worried about his situation."

• May 14 (.208, 0 HRs, 15 RBIs)
After going 0 for 7 and tying a team record by stranding 12 runners against the Angels, a disgusted Ortiz tells reporters, "I'm sorry guys, I don't feel like talking now.... Just put down, 'Papi stinks.'"

• May 15
Manager Terry Francona benches Ortiz for a three-game series in Seattle, saying his DH needs a break to clear his head: "It looked like he had been fighting his pillow."

• May 19
Francona says he won't move Ortiz out of the third spot in the lineup, where Big Papi has hit since May 2005. "If we move David around, everybody moves," the skipper says. "I don't think it puts us in the best position."

• May 20 (.210, 1 HR, 17 RBIs)
Ortiz's father, Enrique, has flown to Boston from the Dominican Republic to comfort his son. It works: Big Papi hits his first home run and is rewarded with a curtain call at Fenway Park. "I feel good, man. I feel like I just got that big ol' monkey off my back," he says. Ortiz may have also had help from a higher power; after the game he shows a Boston Herald reporter a set of handmade wooden rosary beads sent by a fan: "See how beautiful they are?"

• May 24 (.195, 1 HR, 18 RBIs)
After an 0 for 5 against the Mets drops his average below the Mendoza Line, Ortiz laments his bad luck. Referring to a hard line drive off his bat that was caught, he says, "I came this close to crying ... [but] I've got to keep my boys rolling. I figure if I'm down, a lot of people are looking at me, and it can get contagious."

• May 26
Francona drops Ortiz to the sixth spot in the order, the first time he's hit lower than cleanup since May 2004.

• June 4 (.187, 1 HR, 20 RBIs)
Ortiz, whose vision tested 20/20 during a spring training exam, tells reporters he's going to have his eyes checked again because they have felt dry, and he's been blinking a lot. The exam was scheduled for Monday. "It's just when I try to focus on something," he says the next day. "And I focus on hitting. When you've got that blinking thing going on, it just doesn't feel right.'"

• June 6 (.196, 2 HRs, 22 RBIs)
The slump is such a hot topic around baseball that an anonymous scout offers the New York Post his uninformed opinion on the reason for the slump: Ortiz is older than his listed 33. "The chances of his birth certificate being accurate are zero," the scout says. Later, Ortiz hits his second home run and raises his average to .196. "I'm feeling good. I just have to keep swinging, swinging. If I swing, swing, swing, good things will happen."

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He has just two homers, but Ortiz STAYS POSITIVE: "If I'm down, it can get contagious."
ILLUSTRATIONILLUSTRATION BY DARROW