Big Papi puts tough year behind him
Red Sox slugger looking forward to a healthy 2009 season
BOSTON -- The one buzzword that doctors used when describing after-effects that Red Sox slugger David Ortiz would have coming off the left wrist injury that shut him down for seven weeks in the middle of the 2008 season was "abnormalities".
As it turns out, the word became sort of a theme for what was easily the most frustrating of the six years Ortiz has spent with the Red Sox.
In the past, October had been somewhat of a personal showcase for the left-handed slugger. But this time around, there would be just one home run for Ortiz in Boston's 11 postseason games, and a .186 average. That was abnormal.
During the roughest portions of the American League Championship Series, when the Red Sox got pounded in Games 3 and 4, and again in the early stages of Game 5, Ortiz heard the most abnormal thing of all -- some boos from the fans who have adored him for so long.
In the aftermath of it all, Ortiz didn't let any of it beat him down. He headed home with the thought that he would regain his familiar swagger after a chance to rest that wrist.
"I'm just going to try to get my hand stronger and chill out for a minute and come back ready to go, like I know how, next year," Ortiz said following Game 7, a 3-1 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.
For a man who had lifted the Red Sox on his shoulders again and again over the years, Ortiz knew that 2008 was a lesson in reality. Yes, athletes go through adversity. At least in October -- always his best month -- Ortiz had never dealt with much before.
The man known for his walk-off hits this time walked off with added motivation for the winter.
"It's crazy, man -- I've been here six years and this was my first year I had really been bothered by an injury," said Ortiz. "I came back and tried to fight back and tried to do what I know how to do. I try to work, man. I tried my best. It's not going to be roses and flowers all the time. Sometimes bad things happen and you learn from it."
Though the torn meniscus in Ortiz's right knee lingered throughout 2007, the slugger says it was nothing compared to the partially torn sheath in his wrist.
"The knee was easier [to deal with] because I'm not a fast guy anyway," Ortiz said. "I could take that. I have to use my hands to hit."
Ortiz -- who hit .264 with 23 homers and 89 RBIs in 109 regular season games -- won't need surgery this winter. Instead, he will just need rest. That clicking sensation that he felt at times following his comeback on July 25 will likely be as far gone as many of the home runs he has hit during his career.
"He's another player that I think will benefit from rest and from a really good offseason," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said recently. "But David is 32 years old and I see no reason why he can't come back and be one of the most dominant power bats in baseball sitting in the middle of our lineup next year."
In a way, Ortiz embodied the 2008 Red Sox, playing through physical discomfort and doing everything in his power to try to get is team back to the World Series.
"He played through a lot and is another guy who deserves a lot of credit for putting in a lot of effort to come back and help this team," Epstein said. "Obviously he didn't have the postseason he wished he had, but that doesn't change in my mind what he means to the organization and how valuable he can be going forward. I look forward to seeing him strong and rested going into next season."
As for the boos, Ortiz didn't deny hearing them, but he wasn't going to spend his winter stewing about them either.
"You know, fans run out of patience and I understand that," Ortiz said. "It's kind of hard. I saw Pedro Martinez getting booed. I saw Nomar [Garciaparra] get booed. Those guys, they did it all here before that. I don't mind. I'll just come back next year ready."
Ortiz has been at the center of an amazing six-year run for the Red Sox, which has included two World Series championships, four trips to the ALCS and five postseason appearances.
"The fans, they get used to it," Ortiz said. "You have to sit down and realize the history of what this team has been through before and go from there. We've been playing great since I got here. This team has been amazing. We've been in the playoffs pretty much every year. We've won two World Series. We tried to go back and win this year and didn't work out. What can you do? Nothing -- just come back ready next year. Everybody knows that this ballclub this year has been [hurt] by a lot of injuries and tough situations. It's hard to move forward like that. We did try."
As for 2009, Ortiz's biggest hope is that life is back to normal for him, which will mean bad things for opposing pitchers.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.