Papi don't reach

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Is David Ortiz done?

"I've got two words for you," a top talent evaluator said. "Carlos Pena."

What on Earth does Pena have to do with Ortiz?

Entering the 2008 season, Ortiz was coming off three straight 100-plus RBIs seasons and was one of the most feared sluggers in the game.

But Tuesday night, the lovable Big Papi was called back to the dugout with lefty Scott Downs on the mound and the bases loaded. Mike Lowell drew a bases-loaded walk for the Red Sox for the deciding run.

And Ortiz was on the bench again Wednesday with Jays lefty Brett Cecil pitching.

"I saw Pena when he was with the Detroit Tigers one night against the Cleveland Indians in 2005 and guys would bust him inside with 86-87 m.p.h. fastballs. I thought he was done," the scout said. "Everyone did. Just not our club."

The next spring the Tigers released Pena. He was signed by the New York Yankees and released the next day and signed with Boston the day after that.

"So, now the next year we need pitching help, I go to see Kyle Loshe and Pena is with Columbus," the scout said. "Now, they aren't getting inside fastballs past him. I'm talking higher velocity.

"People said: 'Ah, it's just triple-A.' Other teams looked at him, didn't like him, so we pass on the guy. He's 34 now?

"I guess my answer is, you never know. I thought I knew with Pena."

The Tampa Bay Rays signed Pena on Jan. 29 in 2007 -- not the time of year in-demand free agents sign.

The next three seasons, Pena went on to average 38 homers, 108 RBIs and an OPS of .934 and is in the final year of a three-year $24.125-million US deal.

"Point of the story? When I saw Pena I saw swings and misses. When I see Ortiz, I see swings and I see contact," the scout said.

Lowell pinch hit for Ortiz against Texas Rangers left-hander Darren Oliver last week and termed it "embarrassing."

"I'm OK," Ortiz said before Wednesday's series finale against the Jays. Still, it was strange sight. Tie game. Bases loaded. Eighth inning.

Ortiz, given a plaque that reads: "David Ortiz #34 The Greatest Clutch Hitter in the History of the Boston Red Sox," by the management team of John W. Henry, Phil Morse and Larry Lucchino, called back to the dugout.

And headed to the plate was Lowell, the same Lowell traded in the off-season to the Rangers, but returned to Boston after the Rangers didn't like his physical.

"I remember my first game here, it was in 1998 when I was with Minnesota. I think Chris Carpenter pitched," Ortiz said. "There were more fans back then."

The Twins opened that season at the SkyDome with Roger Clemens pitching a 3-2 win for the Jays. Paul Molitor was the DH for the Twins that night.

The next night Ortiz hit clean-up, played first and singled off Pat Hengten. And after Molitor hit a three-run triple off Kelvim Escobar, Twins manager Tom Kelly pinch hit the redoutable Alex Ochoa for Ortiz.

After the 2002 season, the Twins released Ortiz, one of the few blemishes on the career of general manager Terry Ryan. With the Sox, Ortiz's persona grew larger than life.

He has 12 walk-off homers on his resume, including two in the 2004 post-season -- one against the Anaheim Angels and another against the Yanks, when Boston was down 3-0 in the ALCS.

Ortiz has a .432 career average (22-for-51) with 10 homers, 51 RBIs and a 1.547 OPS.

But the Red Sox live in the here and now, and now Ortiz is hitting .154 with one homer and four RBIs.

We hope to see him when Boston returns to the Rogers Centre, July 9-11.

BOB.ELLIOTT@SUNMEDIA.CA


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