BOSTON — David Ortiz signed with the Red Sox as a free agent on Jan. 22, 2003. Things have never been the same.
Ortiz drilled two home runs and collected his 2,000th career hit as part of the Red Sox’ 20-4 blowout victory over the Tigers on Wednesday. Throughout the eventful evening, the Fenway Faithful showed Ortiz the same support that has made his 11 seasons in Boston so productive, so memorable and so special.
“It means a lot. My life has been built up around this organization, this city [and] these fans,” Ortiz said after Wednesday’s win. “I think that the best thing that ever happened to me was coming to play here in Boston because what I see every day when I get to the field is pretty much what I saw growing up in my country. People love baseball, people live for baseball and as a player, that just gets you going. There’s no way that there’s a day that you don’t feel like coming in and trying to get it done.”
Ortiz has been getting it done since Day 1. Of his 2,001 career hits, 1,608 have come in a Red Sox uniform. And of his 427 career home runs — which have him tied with Mike Piazza for 46th place on baseball’s all-time home run list — 368 have come with Boston. The result has been a bond that would have been hard to envision the two sides not continuing during the offseason when Ortiz was a free agent.
“No, and I say that probably from a bigger picture standpoint,” manager John Farrell said when asked if he could have imagined a Red Sox lineup sans Ortiz. “What he’s meant to this organization, the city, being involved with two World Series already, the fixture that he’s been for a number of years in the middle of the lineup. And I think more than anything, it was a matter of health, not production or projection what this year would have been. It was just a matter of him getting healthy, and obviously he has.”
Ortiz joins Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez as the three active players with at least 2,000 hits, 400 home runs and 1,400 RBIs. After blasting two homers Wednesday, Ortiz now has nine seasons with at least 25 home runs. All have come with the Red Sox, which puts him second on the franchise’s all-time list behind Ted Williams, who reached the 25-homer mark 14 times with Boston.
Red Sox fans had a lot to cheer about Wednesday, as the team tied a single-game franchise record with eight home runs in what Farrell described as a “rare and outstanding offensive night.” But no two moments were louder than when Ortiz collected his 2,000th career hit in the sixth inning and then added to his total with a two-run homer over the right field bullpens in the seventh inning.
“These fans here, you see how everybody wants to go and play at their field because they know that the crowd is going to be there. Our fans support this ball club better than anyone else that I have seen and getting this done, especially here at home, it was one of those things that you will never forget about,” Ortiz said. “I will keep that in mind how everybody was on their feet when I got the 2,000th hit. The fans have been through the bad times and the good times, and our fans deserve that more than anyone else, especially after the season that we had last year. I think what makes it more special is not only getting it done at home, but the situation that we’re at. We’re pretty much walking into the playoffs, and that’s something that our fans have been missing for a while.”
The Red Sox are now a season-high 27 games over .500 following Wednesday’s victory. They’ve won nine of their last 11 games, and, as Ortiz pointed out, they’re healthier than they’ve been in years past. The 37-year-old is hoping that leads to increasing the only number that matters right now: two — the number of World Series rings he currently owns.
“I just try to always come in and do something to win a ballgame,” Ortiz said. “In my case, I always get caught off guard when it comes down to personal numbers. Obviously, you guys sometimes come to me and tell me how far I am from doing things, and most of the time, it surprises me. … I’m coming to the field with my mind focused on winning the next game. That’s me. But it’s great getting to that milestone and accomplishing numbers that at some point when you’re not playing baseball, you look at them and thank God for giving you a nice career.”
It’s been a nice career, both for Ortiz and the Red Sox. Just remember that it’s not over yet.