BOSTON -- The cartoon taped to the wall above David Ortiz's locker says it all: "Gone Fishin'."
Never mind that Ortiz is on pace to smash the majors' single-season record for doubles. Forget that he has hit 18 home runs, tying him with Willie McCovey, Frank Thomas and fellow Boston Red Sox icon Ted Williams for 19th on the all-time list. Pay no mind to the fact that, at age 40, he remains as feared as any hitter in the game.
When the season is over, Big Papi is done. Finished. Gone, goodbye, just like the two homers that Red Sox fifth starter du jour Roenis Elias allowed to Seattle Mariners right fielder Franklin Gutierrez in the first three innings of an 8-4 loss Friday night.
And so, after the Red Sox fell for the ninth time in 14 games, and while manager John Farrell scrounges around for arms to fill out a rotation that is neither good enough nor deep enough, it's worth recalling the mandate put forth in January by principal owner John Henry when faced with the reality that this season would be Ortiz's last hurrah.
"It would be a disaster -- that's a strong word, I guess, but a big disaster -- it would be terrible," Henry said, "if he doesn't end his career in the postseason."
Indeed, it would be a crime against baseball if Ortiz's last shot at another World Series title is undermined by the Red Sox's woefully inadequate pitching.
Between them, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens, Sean O'Sullivan and now Elias have made 26 starts -- roughly 40 percent of the Sox's games -- and posted a 7.18 ERA. Friday night was Elias' turn. He gave up seven runs in four innings and was promptly shipped back to Triple-A. Buchholz, banished to the bullpen less than a month ago, will get another shot next Wednesday night against the Chicago White Sox, but that hardly feels like a solution to Red Sox fans who have watched the maddeningly inconsistent right-hander over the past 10 years.
And with each stinker lobbed by a Red Sox starter, the need for president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to acquire significant pitching help becomes more urgent if only to prevent the season from devolving into a nightly appreciation of Ortiz in meaningless late-season games.
The Red Sox need a reliable arm -- more than merely fourth- and fifth-starter filler -- to place behind ace David Price and alongside upstart knuckleballer Steven Wright. For as much as Dombrowski is mindful of protecting a fertile farm system, he also might have to sacrifice an elite prospect or two in order to punch Ortiz's final ticket to the postseason.
"It's not just the offense," Ortiz said after belting his 521st career homer in the fourth inning against Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma. "It's just like, it doesn't matter how good you hit if you're not about to hold the opposition's offense down. I know our starting pitching is battling. That's what this game is all about right now. The game is all about being able to pitch, because it seems like the offense is doing well this year, better than last year. If we get that good pitching, we'll be able to hold on to it."
The Red Sox remain only one game off the pace in the American League East, a testament to the strength of the league's highest-scoring offense. But you can't outslug your own pitching forever, and it finally seems to be catching up to the Sox, 5-9 in June with an unforgiving, second-half schedule that sends them on the road for 44 of 75 games after the All-Star break.
"It's not been reflective of the first two months we've had, particularly the most recent stretch at home here where we've felt like we've really made this a comfortable place for us, an exciting place for us," Farrell said of the team's play in June. "We've had some games where we haven't kept things under control from the start. We've played from behind here of late a little bit."
In other words, the pitching hasn't been nearly acceptable. It needs to get considerably better to forestall what the team's owner would classify as a Red Sox disaster -- a postseason without David Ortiz.