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Ortiz steals spotlight with milestone hit

7/10/2013

SEATTLE -- At 37, David Ortiz has spent most of his 17-year career in the spotlight.

He entered it again Tuesday by helping the Red Sox overcome an early four-run deficit with a four-hit night that included a pair of doubles and a home run. More gratifying was tying Harold Baines for most career hits as a DH in front of 21,072 fans, roughly a quarter of whom were wearing Boston colors.

Ortiz's performance highlighted a five-homer effort that boosted the Sox to an 11-8 win.

Leave it to Big Papi to perform his own comedy routine in a moment when most would choose to reflect.

“I’m getting old, man,” he joked in a jubilant visitor’s locker room hours after collecting his 1,688th hit as a DH. “You have to play for a while to put numbers together. I don’t really think about it right now. I’m just trying to go through the motions and try to contribute and produce for this ballclub so we can win ballgames.”

No kidding.

In the eighth inning, Ortiz helped the Sox cushion their lead when he noticed first baseman Justin Smoak wasn’t holding him on.

Off he went, nabbing his third stolen base of the season. He scored later in the inning when Jose Iglesias singled. It was one of the three runs he scored Tuesday, something that will likely be overlooked.

Boston manager John Farrell noticed.

“What might get lost in this is David’s stolen base,” he said. “The crowd is laughing about it because you’re typically not going to see it, but it really set things up. It might go under the radar, but that stolen base was key in that inning.”

“You play to win,” Ortiz added. “Any chance you have, you got to take advantage of it.”

He applied that philosophy to the Mariners' pitching staff, as well, capitalizing when pitchers left strikes up and over the plate. His third-inning double off Hisashi Iwakuma was still gaining speed when it bounced off the fence in right-center field.

The struggling right-hander is not alone in his inability to punch out Ortiz. The DH is laying waste to the AL West in 2013: His .367 average (29-for-79) includes 18 extra-base hits. His numbers against the rest of the league are nearly as impressive. He has recorded a hit in 17 of his past 20 games, boosting his season average to .327. That number is roughly 40 points better than his career mark. Tuesday he cracked his 18th home run.

In his typical demeanor, Ortiz downplayed the accolades he is beginning to collect in what is becoming an unprecedented year.

“It’s good stuff. I’ve been doing my thing,” he said. “It’s a good accomplishment, but I’m not really thinking about it.”

Nor is he giving much credence to his advanced age. Ortiz is noticeably trimmer and even has a pair of triples in 73 games this season. Just don’t try to encourage him to brag about it.

“I’m playing, you know?” he said when asked about his production. “Hopefully it continues that way.”

Ortiz’s offensive surge is magnified as his club maneuvers through the five remaining games before the All-Star break while clinging to its lead in the AL East. Farrell didn’t hesitate to single out his cleanup hitter.

Ortiz should be entering the twilight of his career. Instead he is redefining it.

“It’s just an outstanding career. He just continues to get better with age,” Farrell said. “Despite the 15 games missed, you look at the total numbers amassed so far ...

“He might be setting the bar for the position itself.”