- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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DENVER -- He is doing things very few players his age have ever done. Another home run and a couple of RBIs, and David Ortiz has a chance to be one of seven players 37 or older to bat .300, hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 or more runs.
"Can you imagine this ballclub without me in the lineup?'' Ortiz said here Tuesday afternoon. "Tell me about it. Would we be here now? That wasn't going to happen.''
It ain't bragging, they say, if it's true, and Ortiz was responding to a question about the discussion last winter about the merits of signing an aging player with a bad Achilles to a multiyear contract. There were plenty of folks, you might recall, who were opposed to the idea.
There might have been a couple in the Boston Red Sox front office.
"The problem is,'' Ortiz said, "that most of the people that always have had their doubts about me, they never sat down and analyzed my numbers. As long as I've been here, I mean without injuries, I've been one of the most consistent players who ever played here for the Red Sox.
"Just look at my numbers. Those people can just ...''
Ortiz finished that thought with language too ripe for public consumption.
In the end, the Sox gave Ortiz a two-year deal for $26 million with the stipulation that his 2014 salary increase by $4 million, from $11 million to $15 million, if he spent 20 days or fewer on the disabled list because of the Achilles. Ortiz opened the season on the DL and spent 15 days there. He did not return.
"Whoever made that move made a smart move,'' Ortiz said. "It's a poker game they like to play with every player. There was nobody in free agency they could have brought in. What were we going to do, give $125 million to [Josh] Hamilton just to go through what he's gone through?
"Once we get caught up again in the heat of the season, all you're going to see is the guy who got it done before, trying to get it done again.''
And in Boston, for the past 11 seasons, that has meant David Ortiz.
But even Ortiz, in the midst of another great season, can't go on forever. How much longer?
"I don't know,'' he said, "but not too long.
"It's not like I'm going to retire tomorrow, you know what I'm saying? But it's not like I'm going to be playing another five years. I don't think I will.
"I'm trying to go with the flow, but things are getting harder, I'm not going to lie to you. Things are getting harder, and I'm too responsible. I've got the winning mentality. I'll do whatever it takes to win. It's not like you lose any of that, but it's your body. Your body starts beating up on you.''
And it's not just the significant breakdowns, such as the strained Achilles tendon that limited him to 90 games last season and led to all kinds of pessimism about how much he'd be able to play this season. There were times in spring training he was discouraged, but now, with a full season nearly behind him, he says that was never the case.
"I never doubted myself,'' he said. "I know what I can do. The minute I doubt myself, I'm done.''
But it's the cumulative wear and tear that has Ortiz thinking about the end more than he ever has.
"I'm a big guy,'' he said. "I carry a lot of weight, and I have 17 years in the league. There are some days I wake up and say, 'What did I do yesterday?' That's the hardest part of playing. Now, I go to the gym, I do my thing, my body gets in the mood and for the next couple of hours, I'm good to go. But once I cool off ...''
The demands of the game have hardly lessened. Ortiz has been intentionally walked 27 times this season, including once Tuesday night. That's the most in baseball, eight more times than Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds and Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, an indication of the respect he still engenders.
"Thirty-seven years old, and I lead the league in intentional walks,'' he said. "I thought life was going to be easier at this stage in my career, but they're pitching me tougher than they used to pitch me when I was in my prime. No question. It's not about pitchers challenging me. It's them deciding who they can get out and who they can't.
"I've got to be seeing six or seven pitches per at-bat. I don't go to the plate with the intention of seeing pitches; if you give me what I'm looking for, I'm swinging at it. But I mean, pitchers try not to make mistakes with me. That's all they talk about.''
For the record, Ortiz is averaging 3.87 pitches per plate appearance this season, the lowest average of his career, but he also has had 81 plate appearances that have gone to a full count, the most frequent count of his plate appearances this season.
"The series that we just played against the Blue Jays, every time I came to hit, the catcher has a meeting with the pitcher. Every time. Nobody else but me. I was watching the video afterward, and I saw the catcher give the sign for a fastball away, then went like this: Away, away,'' Ortiz said, pantomiming the catcher sweeping both hands away from the plate. "I was cracking up.''
So how is it that even though he is older, pitchers are tougher on him than ever and he was coming off a serious injury, that he has been able to do the things he has done this season?
"A lot of hard work,'' he said. "I try to keep hold of what I used to do in the past, but that's what wears me out. I'm not 27 anymore, but I have to keep hold of what I was doing when I was 27 to keep up with today.
"It's crazy, but it is what it is, right? It's not like I'm crying and bitching and complaining about it. It is what it is.''
And he has made adjustments. Before, even when pitchers were working him away, he still tried to beat the shift. Not anymore.
"I'm hitting .300 right now because I go opposite field more than I used to. Before I just tried to juice some ball, which was working for me because my power was something crazy. I still have power, but not like I used to. Of course, I'm not that young anymore.
"But I feel like I'm smarter than what I used to be. Now, when they pitch me away, I stick with it and go the other way. As things slow down, you notice and you get smarter. That's the way I see it.''
Smarter, but smart enough to know that those aches and pains he feels when he gets up in the morning aren't going to go away.
Smart enough to one day say, "No more." But in the meantime, he continues to do what he has always done. Designated to hit.
Sox fans should enjoy David Ortiz while they can. He won't be around forever.