Sox support Papi, but focus elsewhere
Winning is main objective for teammates of embattled star
BOSTON -- The Red Sox, to a man, vowed that the sudden controversy surrounding David Ortiz will not distract their quest to reach the postseason for the sixth time in the past seven years.
The New York Times reported that Ortiz and former Sox slugger Manny Ramirez both were among the 104 players who tested positive in Major League Baseball's 2003 survey testing for performance-enhancing drugs. Ortiz said he had no knowledge that he had tested positive in 2003 until the Players Association confirmed it for him on Thursday.
More than anything, the Red Sox think that the way Ortiz has promised to handle the situation will prevent it from being a controversy.
"I think this could be a distraction if we allow it to become a distraction, but David's approach, in which he's not going to hide and he's going to find out the facts and answer questions, will help prevent it from becoming a distraction," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "The organization supports him and his teammates support him. And it's easy to support him with the approach that he's chosen to take as a result of the revelations of today."
At least on Thursday, the Red Sox looked focused on the field, beating the A's, 8-5, thanks in large part to a go-ahead, three-run homer by Ortiz in the seventh inning.
"Just like a lot of things, we have to go out and focus and play a game, regardless of what goes on," said Red Sox captain Jason Varitek. "You can't change history and what has or hasn't happened. We don't know. We have to go and focus on winning games."
"I'd rather focus on our season," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "We've got a lot of things we have to concentrate on. I'm sure things will come out when they come out."
The Red Sox had no knowledge that Ortiz had tested positive in the 2003 survey testing until Thursday, when a reporter from The New York Times spoke with Ortiz.
"We're surprised and saddened by the report, but I think before we can have complete reaction, we need the complete story," said Epstein. "I'm not trying to run from anything or hide from anything, either. I think David's response -- 'Let's get all the facts and we'll answer every question' -- I think that's the right approach."
Ortiz, who released a statement and then spoke to the media for roughly two minutes on Thursday, said he will discuss the situation at length once he learns exactly what he tested positive for.
With Ortiz and current Dodgers left fielder Ramirez both being on the list of 104, does that taint Boston's World Series championship teams of 2004 and '07?
"In 2003, I was in college hitting rockets," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, part of the '07 squad. "I don't know [anything] about what was going on back then. Obviously David's our teammate. We love him. He's done everything in the world for me. We're here to support him."
"Until you give me the concrete evidence of everyone, you're going to pit our team against another team and who did what," said Lowell, the MVP of the 2007 World Series. "You're getting into a debate that no one can ever answer, so why debate it? I didn't feel bad winning the World Series in '07. I'm not giving any rings back, either, so don't ask."
In light of what transpired Thursday, there is more attention to the historic nature of Boston's recent championships because of Ortiz's impact on those teams.
So, is 2004 diminished?
"The '04 year was special," said former Sox outfielder Johnny Damon, who is now with the Yankees. "I know we could not have won without a bunch of the players that we had there. David and Manny were great, but I had probably the best year of my career hitting in the clutch. We had Derek Lowe pitch well, Pedro [Martinez] pitched well, we added [Curt] Schilling. I would have to see if there's more names [on the list of 104] and then I'd be able to comment on that."
Because the testing was supposed to be anonymous, some current and former teammates of Ortiz's continue to be upset when names leak out. In February, Sports Illustrated broke the story that Alex Rodriguez was one of the names on the list.
"It's so hard to even understand, I mean, what is that list?" said Nomar Garciaparra, now an infielder-DH for the A's. "This has become an absolute joke. I think it's just a crock. I don't even believe the list. It's kind of ridiculous when you have a list like that, and it doesn't go through the proper channels. What is the truth about something like that? That's just unfair."
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon agreed.
"This is all kind of pointless, to be honest," Papelbon said. "What's the point of even talking about six years [earlier]? That's the way I feel about it. Nobody wants to go through that. He's my friend and teammate. I don't want to see people have to deal with that, that takes away from the focus of what the job is at hand, which is to win ballgames and get back in the race and try to be back on top in the American League East."
The Red Sox plan on Ortiz playing a big role in that quest.
"He was going about his business the same way before the game today," Lowell said. "He's always been the same upbeat and team oriented guy. That didn't change today. He's probably, offensively, the biggest key to our team. He's that one bat that you definitely fear. If he gets going, our offense really seems to put up runs."
"For us, we're just going to keep playing baseball," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "Hopefully it won't affect us. It didn't affect us today and hopefully it doesn't affect us for the next couple months."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.