SAN FRANCISCO -- You could tell something was amiss with David Ortiz at the All-Star Game. Sure, he had his usual amount of bling dangling from his ears and adorning his fingers. And he cracked a few of those trademark smiles as he peered out at the media horde from behind his dark shades. But there wasn't the usual bravado we've come to know from Big Papi. Instead of his entertaining bluster, he was downright subdued at times.
Turns out there was a reason. When he got back to Boston, crisis No. 1 of the Red Sox second half emerged Thursday as Ortiz revealed he's been playing with a slight tear of the meniscus in his right knee. Now it all makes sense after Ortiz admitted out west it's been frustrating to be a glorified singles hitter this season.
"I try not to worry about all that stuff, man. We're winning," he said. "Look at our pitching. Great. Me? I'll be fine. Manny [Ramirez]. He'll be fine too. Don't you worry. I'm still hitting, just not home runs."
Ortiz's words felt hollow. He entered the second half batting .314 but with only 14 homers and 52 RBIs, a huge drop from last year's break total of 31-87 that put him en route to a career- and franchise-high of 54 homers and 137 RBIs.
Ortiz hasn't homered off a left-handed pitcher all season. He and Ramirez have not been the fearsome duo in the middle of the Boston lineup. It's clearly been pitching that's carried the Sox to their big lead in the AL East.
The party lines around Ortiz have been that he's struggling with quad and hamstring troubles and has yet to adjust to new hitting coach Dave Magadan. The Red Sox fired Ron "Papa Jack" Jackson after last season, and Ortiz was particularly close to his hitting mentor, who is now a coach at Triple-A Round Rock in the Astros' chain.
Some people have accused Magadan of tinkering with Ortiz's swing and stride and making him a more straight-up hitter. But the reality is Ortiz admitted the knee and quad troubles have prevented him from getting into a deep enough crouch to generate his usual power stroke.
Ortiz admitted he's called Jackson several times for advice, even though he said Jackson did not want to overstep Magadan's authority.
"I talk to Papa Jack, sure," Ortiz said. "But 'Mags' [Magadan] has been good. I listen to him. Papa Jack is different. He believed in me in 2003. He was the first one who said 'Big Papi' can be the man.
For one of the few times in the session, that was the glimpse of the old Ortiz, the one talking about himself in the third person. More than any other player, Ortiz has become the face of one of the game's marquee franchises. But the Yankees still loom behind Boston and Ortiz's sore knee is likely to be a daily topic the rest of the season.
"I'm surprised but I'm happy the Yankees are where they are, man," he said. "I hope they stay there. You never know with them. They can get hot and 'woo-wee,' here they come."
Ortiz has not had surgery on the knee because there had not been too much inflammation but you've got to wonder if that might have been the route to go last winter or early this season. What if Ortiz hits, say, mid-September and can't go anymore? What will the Red Sox do then?
Tribe signs another
Travis Hafner's new deal, a four-year, $57 million extension signed Thursday, allows the Indians' top slugger to stop being distracted by his contract situation. His denials to the contrary, Hafner's mundane first half (.262-14-57) had to be related in part to his contract uncertainty.
The Hafner deal also allows the Tribe to focus its full attention on somehow keeping C.C. Sabathia after the 2008 season, when he'll be a free agent and able to get huge bucks on the free-agent market. Negotiations aren't going anywhere during the season.
Sabathia was a No. 1 draft pick and Cleveland is the only organization he has ever known. And it may be attractive for him to stay with the Tribe given the way it's locking up its young players.
The Indians have Hafner signed through 2012 with an option for 2013. Jake Westbrook, Fausta Carmona, Josh Barfield and Ryan Garko are signed through 2010. Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez have their option years in '10. Jhonny Peralta's option year is 2011 and Grady Sizemore's is 2012.
Signing their young players to multi-year deals long before they get close to free agency is a strategy the Indians hope will build a perennial contender. Hmmmm. Sounds like an approach a certain hockey team in these parts could have found handy.
Ichiro boosts Hunter
Ichiro Suzuki signed his new contract with the Mariners on Friday and the first person who should congratulate him is Twins center fielder Torii Hunter. With Ichiro going off the market and Atlanta's Andruw Jones having a disastrous season, Hunter will ascend to the top of the free-agent outfield class this winter.
Marlins president David Samson ripped Ichiro's reported five-year, $100 million deal (he actually signed for $90 million), saying on a Miami radio show, "It's a joke, it's inexcusable, it's complete mismanagement. It can't be true. It'll take the sport down."
Jeez, chill out. The Mariners reap so much revenue from having a nearly full ballpark and from Japanese marketing that the deal is worth it. Ichiro is easily one of the game's best pure hitters and has a great arm in the outfield. And did Samson watch Tuesday night's game at all?
MLB is going back to the NL-AL rotation of All-Star Games after the last two years (Pittsburgh and San Francisco) were in NL cities. It was widely reported last week that Anaheim is in line for the 2010 game and it's also expected that Citi Field, the new Mets' ballpark that opens in 2009, will host in 2011 while Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium will get the game in 2012. It's in Yankee Stadium next year and St. Louis in 2009.
Commissioner Bud Selig promised a game to KC as part of the Royals' $250 million improvement project at the 35-year-old stadium.
"The intensity [among cities bidding for games] is unbelievable," Selig said. "I can't keep everybody happy. Everybody wants it."
Selig said the game's prosperity and labor peace is seen in both attendance (a record 41.6 million at the break) and growth in franchise values. The Tribune Company paid $20.5 million for the Cubs in 1981. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban joined the list of potential bidders for the team Thursday and the price tag is expected to start at $600 million.
Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima said he was in awe of being around so many stars and added he was surprised at how well his first season of American baseball has gone, especially considering how rough it started.
Okajima gave up a home run on his first pitch in the U.S., April 2 to Kansas City's John Buck, and has not been taken deep since in 44 1/3 innings over 39 appearances.
"I was thinking, 'Everyone is like this in America?' " Okajima said through an interpreter when asked about the home run. "I guess I can't just throw pure fastballs. That won't work in America. I've remembered."