One of the singular pleasures of the Red Sox this season has been watching David Ortiz at the plate.
After the 2007 season, one of if not the best campaign in his career, Ortiz seemed to lose something. 2008 started with a whimper rather than his usual bang, and while he was able to recover somewhat before season's end, a mid-year wrist injury served to keep his totals very low. This of course led to 2009, when Ortiz' career seemed for all intents and purposes to be coming to an end. He still had a big homer run in the second half to make up for a dismal beginning, but even then he still wasn't more than a shadow of his old self.
The Sox, however, kept the faith in their long-time designated hitter, and were rewarded with a bounce-back 2010. It wasn't quite the old Ortiz-there were too many helpless strikeouts against left-handed sliders and curveballs in the dirt for that-but at least it gave Sox fans hope that he could keep producing for another couple of years around that level, giving the Sox a reason to keep around one of the only heroes left from that magical 2004 season.
Then came 2011, and surprisingly things only got better. Gone were the difficulties against left-handed pitching, gone were the prolonged slumps. Citing Adrian Gonzalez' influence, Ortiz became the king of doubles, bouncing hits off the wall in left and into the right field corner in equal numbers and adding 29 homers to boot. It was an impressive display.
It's only this year, however, that Ortiz is actually the monster from 2004-2007 once again. Without giving up the doubles, Ortiz has started belting homers out of the park at a furious pace, and should approach 40 if he keeps the pace up. And these aren't Fenway fly balls to left or line shots that wrap around Pesky's pole. These are the sorts of mammoth shots that can be identified just by the crack of the bat hitting the ball.
They're the sort of homers that demoralize a pitcher, and it's why there's something different about Ortiz this year. Pitchers were never happy to face him last year, or the year before, but this year the fear is back. You could see it in Mark Buehrle, when he looked ready to roll the ball in to home plate before giving him a fastball on a three ball count. You could see it in Chris Hatcher when Ortiz came to the plate with the bases loaded and cleared them by going ten rows deep to right.
Those who campaigned for Jim Rice's election to the Hall-of-Fame, in order to argue against stats that perhaps didn't really stack up against the greats of the time, did so based on reputation. That there were few hitters in the game whose simple presence at the plate carried the impact that his did. When David Ortiz comes to the plate right now, he brings that same impact-the knowledge that the game can be changed, and the pitcher's day ruined, with one violent swing of the bat. For those on his side, it's a beautiful thing to watch.