Ortiz collected his 2,000th career hit with an RBI double to center field in the bottom of the sixth inning of a 20-4 blowout of the Detroit Tigers. He finished the night 3-for-5 with a double, two home runs and four RBIs, and becomes one of three active players with at least 2,000 hits, 400 HRs and 1,400 RBIs, along with the Angels’ Albert Pujols and the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez.
The anticipation had been building over the last week as Ortiz inched closer to the milestone. In fact, the in-game production crew at Fenway Park had a special playlist ready to go.
When Ortiz collected his 1,999th hit with a home run in the fourth inning Wednesday night, Prince’s “1999” blared from the speakers. When he finally collected No. 2,000 with an RBI double to center off Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque, Ortiz stood on second base as the theme to Robert Redford’s movie “The Natural” played.
And as Ortiz rounded the bases during his second home run of the night, the theme to “2001: A Space Odyssey” was playing.
“Big night for David. Obviously a milestone for him,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Great career and great to see the reception, the ovation that he received and rightly so.”
Ironically, earlier in the week Ortiz was contemplating whether he should appeal to Major League Baseball for a scoring change on an error in Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. In the bottom of the first in that game, he smoked a line drive down the first-base line that Chicago first baseman Paul Konerko couldn’t handle. It was scored an error, and after the game Ortiz was livid, saying he would appeal.
He didn’t appeal. But if he had and he was given a hit, No. 2,000 would have been his fourth-inning homer on Wednesday, which would have been a fitting way to accomplish the feat. Either way, he received his curtain call from the fans and was appreciative of the gesture.
“It means a lot,” he said. “My life, I’ve been built up around this organization, this city and these fans. I think the best thing to ever happen to me was to come 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 it gets you going. There’s no way there’s a day you don’t feel like coming in and trying to get it done.
“Our fans support this ball club better than anyone else I have seen and getting this done, especially here at home, it was one of those things you will never forget. I will always keep in my mind when I saw everybody on their feet when I got the 2,000th hit.
“Fans being through the bad times and the good times, our fans deserve that more than anyone else, especially after the season we had last year. What makes it more special is not only getting it done at home, is the situation that we are at. We’re pretty much walking into the playoffs and that’s something our fans have been missing for a while.”
The always-jovial Ortiz was all business during his 10-minute postgame press conference. He only broke into his vintage Big Papi smile once. He spoke about his dedication to the team concept and not personal achievements, saying he comes to the ballpark every day and tries to do something, anything to help the Red Sox win.
“But it’s great getting to that milestone and accomplished numbers that at some point when you’re not playing baseball is when you look at them and thank God for giving you a nice career,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz recorded his first major league hit on Sept. 3, 1997 while a member of the Minnesota Twins. He was a September callup, and it was his second game in the big leagues when he doubled off Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Pisciotta.
It took Ortiz until the 2009 season to reach 1,000 hits. When asked which was tougher, the first thousand or second thousand, he answered, “Getting the next thousand is a bitch. I saw a couple of guys getting 3,000 hits in a game I was in and trust me that’s a special case.”
Because of his raw power to pull the ball as a left-handed hitter, opposing teams routinely play overshifts against Ortiz, which has robbed him of hundreds of hits during his career.
“The way they play me when I hit, I could have done this five, six years ago,” he said with a laugh. “It’s hard to get through [the shift] so it is what it is. When it comes, you’ve got to appreciate it. It’s something that’s not easy to do but when you do it, it’s always welcomed.”
During his 17-year career in the majors, Ortiz has accomplished quite a bit. He’s a nine-time All-Star. He’s won the Silver Slugger award five times. He’s been named the Sox’s MVP three times. He received the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award in 2011, which is given annually to the major leaguer who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field.
Oh, and he has two World Series titles, too.
At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said it was a priority to re-sign Ortiz and he wanted him to end his career in Boston. The sides agreed on a two-year deal worth $26 million.
After Wednesday’s game, Farrell said he couldn’t imagine managing his first season in Boston without Ortiz in the lineup.
“And I say that from a bigger-picture standpoint and what he’s meant from this organization, this city and being involved in two World Series -- already,” Farrell said. “The fixture he’s been for a number of years in the middle of the lineup, and 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 has been healthy and putting up some impressive numbers since he returned to the lineup full-time on April 20 after dealing with an Achilles injury that forced him to miss 71 of the final 72 games of the 2012 season.
He’s played a total of 117 games this season and owns a .313 average with 26 homers and 89 RBIs.
As the Red Sox were packing their bags and getting ready to leave for their road trip to New York to face the Yankees in a four-game set this weekend, former Red Sox catcher and current Tiger Victor Martinez poked his head in the door with a message for Ortiz.
“Two-thousand hits, to me that means you’re getting old.”