Early Saturday evening, David Ortiz was standing alone in the middle of Fenway Park. His teammates celebrated at home plate, and more than 38,000 people stood and cheered around him. But, for a moment, Big Papi was all alone.

Ortiz, who had just delivered a two-out, three-run double to lift the Red Sox to a walk-off win, was shaking his fists in the air. The man once dubbed “The Greatest Clutch Hitter in Red Sox History” had come through in the clutch.

It was the 18th regular season walk-off hit of his career, and it was another huge step forward in a season that has seen Ortiz go from being pinch hit for late in games to reclaiming his spot as one of the game’s most productive hitters.

It has been a long road back to the heart of the Red Sox batting order, and the hearts of Red Sox fans, for Ortiz. Saturday night, he was once again the most beloved player on the team.

That certainly wasn’t the case three months ago. At that point, Ortiz was wrapping up an April in which he hit .143 with one homer and four RBI.

It was another brutal start for Ortiz, who heard boos at Fenway Park and questions about getting old from the media.

Last week, I was a co-host on Boston sports radio station WEEI. Ortiz came on as a guest, a day after his two home- run performance in Anaheim, Calif.

He was quick to call the media to task for how he had been treated during his slow start.

“The fans have always been supportive,” said Ortiz. “Everything starts with reporters. Reporters have always been the problem in Boston. That’s why you see players and they don’t want to come and play here. Just because they have to deal with a reporter, they have to deal with this one guy, that just because you had a bad week you’re slowing down, and they put in people’s minds that you can’t play no more.

You’re old, you’re this, you’re that. I heard that every day. I’m not a guy who likes to pay attention to any of that, but it was in the news every day.”

It certainly was, and with good reason. The Red Sox were going to have to make a decision: stick with Ortiz and hope his slow start was not a sign of eroding skills, or move onto another player.

Manager Terry Francona, who had pinch hit for Ortiz more than once during that early-season slump, stayed with his DH. It was clearly the right choice.

Ortiz extended his hitting streak to 11 Monday night, hitting over .300 with four homers and 12 RBI in that span.

He won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif.

He is strolling to the plate with the same swagger he had showed us in those unforgettable autumn nights in 2004 and 2007.

And he has helped carry a team with a depleted lineup.

Soon, the Red Sox will have to make another decision. The club holds a $12.5 million option on Ortiz for next season. At the start of the year, it seemed highly unlikely that GM Theo Epstein would pick up the option. Now, it seems like a smart move.

And Ortiz wants even more than that.

“I’ll ask you a question, what would be the problem to sign me to a two or three-year deal?” Ortiz asked during the WEEI interview. “What would be the matter you know what you’re going to get.

“I haven’t talked to nobody about that. It’s something that we’re going to talk about at the end of the season. I don’t know when, but at some point it’s going to happen … I try my best, and I plan to play three or four more years, to get it done and I would like to do it here. I don’t feel comfortable — and I said this before — just staying here for another year because I see how everything’s been going on for the last year on my deal.

“There’s a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of craziness, there’s a lot of talk when you cool off, when you get hot, when you do this and do that I want to stick around, and it’s going to be up to them.”

Ortiz showed he can handle the pressure. As the Sox try to stay alive in the AL East race, they have had to lean on Big Papi, and he’s been a stabilizing force.

How the Sox handle his future here, and how he handles their decision, will be the hot topic with the Boston media this off-season.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.