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As the World Series nears its conclusion in Boston, the Red Sox stand one victory away from claiming their third title in the last decade. As much a team effort as this run has been, not only through October but the entire season, there is one player who has led the charge: David Ortiz.
Ortiz has largely been the face of the franchise since the Sox broke The Curse in 2004. Even after fighting through an injury-plagued 2012 season, though one during which he still put up good numbers, general manager Ben Cherington rewarded the 37-year-old with a two-year, $26 million contract in the offseason. So far, it’s been worth every penny.
Even at an age at which most players, especially sluggers, tail off as their careers wind down, Ortiz has played this season like he is still in the prime of his career, re-establishing himself as one of the game’s most feared hitters. During the regular season, he hit .309/.395/.564 with 30 home runs and 103 RBI. He finished in the top-10 in the American League in each of those categories. He also led the AL in intentional walks with 27 – a testament to how dangerous a bat he remains.
That continued into the playoffs, as Ortiz hit safely in each of the four ALDS games against Tampa, finishing the series 5-for-13 with three homers and a double. He, like many of his Red Sox teammates, struggled mightily in the ALCS against Tigers’ pitching, though. He managed just two hits over 22 at bats in the six games. But one of those two hits happened to be a game-tying grand slam in Game 2 that has become one of the biggest home runs in Red Sox history.
Now in the World Series, he’s chasing Major League history, as he’s putting together one of the best single-Fall Classic performances ever. Through five games, he’s hitting .733/.750/1.267 with two doubles, two homers, six RBI, five runs and six walks. Even some of the most storied World Series performances may not match that.
Gehrig and Ruth in ‘28, Jackson in ‘77, Hatcher in ‘90, Bonds in ‘02, and Matsui in ‘09 have arguably had some of the best single-player Series in the history of the game. And Ortiz is now right there with them all.
His batting average and on-base percentage trail only Hatcher. His hit total has already surpassed these greats, and he is just three shy of setting the record for a single World Series, though one must wonder if he will get many more good pitches to hit this series as St. Louis pitchers would be smart to pitch around him. He reached base in nine consecutive plate appearances, which tied the mark Hatcher had set.
While it’s impossible to predict a player can perform this well on the game’s biggest stage, it should hardly come as a surprise that he’s stepping up in late October. He’s been great in each of his three World Series. In his Fall Classic debut in 2004, he hit .308/.471/.615 and had a home run in his first game. In 2007, he went .333/.412/.533 and hit safely in three of the four games. His .465 career World Series average, .556 OBP, .814 SLG, and 1.370 OPS are all the highest all-time for a player with at least 40 plate appearances.
What might be the most impressive fact of all is how Ortiz is able to become even more focused as the stakes get higher. During his 17-year career, Ortiz has struck out once in every 5.6 plate appearances. In the World Series, he strikes out just once every 13.5 trips to the plate. That’s four strikeouts in 54 plate appearances over 13 games. He has yet to strike out through five games in this series. To be able to consistently put the ball in play like that against some of the best pitchers in baseball is simply incredible.
All that’s left now is for him to help his team wrap up this World Series. All the Red Sox need to do is win one of two at home, and it would be the first time they would win a title at Fenway Park in 95 years. If he is able to do that, the Series MVP Award most assuredly awaits for one of the best World Series performances in baseball history.
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