It's official. I am worried about David Ortiz.
His numbers aren't really anything to worry about--his homers have shown a dramatic decline from this time last year, but he and Mike Lowell are still leading the team with 14 apiece. His batting average is healthy, even healthier than last year, as he seems to generally be getting more base hits than home runs. He has attributed this to how he's being pitched this season, which makes sense, and it's brilliant he's finding a way to turn that to his own team's advantage.
It has also been revealed that he will need "cleanup" knee surgery after the season; the problem is relatively minor, but he did say it may have kept him from driving the ball the way he's wanted to early in the first half. Still, it's a minor issue, and he still says the bigger one is how he's being pitched, and I believe him.
No, I'm not worried about him because of any one of those factoids above. I'm worried about him because I can't remember the last time I've seen him smile on the field.
Seriously. Doesn't it seem like a different Papi this season? There have been moments, like his unforgettable hug for Yuniesky Betancourt on the basepaths, that have been Vintage Papi. But last night, I watched his face closely every time it appeared on the screen, and it was not the face I know and love. He went 3 for 4 with two RBI, but his face as he removed his arm protector after each safe return to base was stony, even sullen. And of course it didn't help after he fouled a ball directly off the problematic right knee last night, and everyone on the Eastern seaboard of New England collectively gasped watching him flail around in pain. After that the frown was even more pronounced. He just looks like he's in pain. He also looks unhappy. That's what's scaring me, more than anything else.
Meanwhile, however, my utter, undying, passionate, dedicated, slightly scary LOVE for Jonathan Papelbon? Only increasing with each passing day. Last night Aaron Hill fouled off quite a few pitches on a two-strike count, and so finally I said out loud to the TV, "stop toying with him, Jonathan." Which of course is psycho because no pitcher purposefully lets a guy foul off pitches over and over, but when it comes to Jonathan, this is the way my mind works--clearly he is so superior that he does such things on purpose to alleviate boredom.
I will also say this: approximately one second after I said that, Aaron Hill whiffed on a tearjerker of a splitter; the split continued to kick ass after that last night as well. I'll admit it. I got a little verklempt.
Also in the good news department: Manny absolutely tattooed the ball last night. Witness the way his single to center in the bottom of the 6th ate up Aaron Hill. That was like Wily Mo Pena velocity on that grounder right there--a great sign. Also a great sign: as Gordon Edes reports, "For the first time in Fenway Park in 2007, and only the third time this season, David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez drove in multiple runs in the same game." That would explain the different-yet-familiar feeling about last night's game. And if they can keep it going, or at least if Manny can get locked in, well...let me stop there before I've said too much, but I know all of you out there in TV land are smellin' what I'm steppin' in.
Right now, this season is reminding me of one of the first T-Shirt designs by the Red Seat--Anticipation Nation. In fact, I've been wearing that shirt a lot this summer, because it seems appropriate. Nobody really wants to talk about it much, myself included, but we're all on the edges of our seat as this second half gets down to brass tacks. We all know what we're waiting for. Right now, all I'll say is that with every fiber of my being, I'm hoping it comes.