Ortiz in elite company as he approaches No. 400

678996.jpg

Ortiz in elite company as he approaches No. 400

He provided half of the Red Sox offense Monday night, which seems about right when you think of it, since that seems to have been the case most nights this season.

On a team ravaged by injuries, he's been the one constant. There's been no Manny Ramirez to protect him, or, for that matter, no Adrian Gonzalez, or at least, not the Adrian Gonzalez (.722 OPS) he or anyone else expected.

Still, the numbers pile up for David Ortiz. On Monday, he belted two homers and three RBI in a 9-6 loss to Toronto.

The homers were the lone bit of excitement for the Sox, and if they didn't help the Red Sox win on this particular night, they did help Ortiz climb the historical ladder some.

The first one, rocketed into the bleachers in right, moved him out of a tie with Joe Carter, giving him 397 for his career. The second, a booming shot into the bleachers in straightaway center, was No. 398, placing him in a tie with Dale Murphy for 51st place on the all-time list.

For the season, the second homer was No. 20, making it 10 straight years in which Ortiz has reached that number since coming to the Red Sox, trailing only Dwight Evans and Jim Rice (11 each) and Ted Williams (16).

Since 2003, only one player has had more multi-homer games in all of baseball: Albert Pujols, who has 40.

The two-homer game was the 39th of his career and 37th in a Red Sox uniform, tying him with Williams for the frachise record.

Nearing four hundred homers, catching up to Rice and Pujols, and being linked with the game's all-time greatest hitter -- this is the kind of rarefied air that Ortiz is breathing these days.

"I must be,'' said Ortiz, breaking into a huge smile, "a bad mother-(expletive).''

Indeed he must.

This year, Ortiz is hitting homers at his fastest rate since 2006, when he snapped Jimmy Foxx's franchise record for most homers by a Red Sox in a season.

Before the season is at its halfway point, Ortiz is on pace to hit 40, something no Red Sox player his age (36) or older has ever accomplished.

And, no Red Sox player age 36 or older has ever hit 40 home runs in a season. Williams, naturally, holds the Red Sox record of 38 in 1957 when he was 38.

"When you attach your name to a legend like that . . .,'' said Ortiz. "It's just something that you never think about it. I never thought about anything like that. I came here to play baseball. Ted Williams is a legend. I never thought about (matching what he did).''

Sometime relatively soon -- perhaps before the Red Sox leave for their West Coast trip Wednesday night, given that he's homered five times in his last seven games -- Ortiz will become the 50th player to hit 400 homers in his career.

Even as the steroid era has devalued some milestones, the 400-homer plateau is an impressive one, and Ortiz confesses that he's taken a look at those who've joined that club, while noting some who didn't gain entrance.

"I was looking at a lot of big names,'' he said, ''and man, I mean, there were a lot of big power hitters who never hit four hundred. So I guess it's pretty good company.''

Ortiz would like to play another two years, and should he continue to pile up homers at the rate in which he's hit them the last few seasons, he might muster a run at No. 500.

Those numbers seem abstract for now, and because he's not finished, he chooses not to give much thought to his own standing, his own legacy.

That perspective will come later.

"Right now, I look at (No. 400) as just another number,'' he said. "But I'm pretty sure that when I stop playing and start focusing on different people's numbers and look at myself and where I stand with some great players, it's going to be pretty nice.''

Giardi: John Farrell has been ‘handcuffed’ by roster

Giardi: John Farrell has been ‘handcuffed’ by roster

Mike Giardi and Trenni Kusnierek debate whether or not John Farrell should be fired after a rough month of June.

McAdam: It's make-or-break time before the break for Red Sox

McAdam: It's make-or-break time before the break for Red Sox

Not long ago, the final homestand of the first half of the 2016 season looked like an opportunity for the Red Sox.
      
Now, however, it looks more like a survival test.
      
Are they contenders or pretenders? 
     
Is this a month-long downturn or a preview of coming attractions? 

      
The Red Sox still possess a winning record and are tied for one of the wild-card spots in the American League. The season isn't shot. Yet.
      
But it could be soon if the Red Sox don't execute a turnaround and thrust themselves back into the divisional race. At the precise moment the Red Sox are in freefall, the Baltimore Orioles are streaking, and doing what the Red Sox have failed to do: take advantage of some breaks in the schedule.
      
While the Red Sox dropped two of three to a Tampa Bay team which had lost 11 in a row -- four at the hands of the Orioles themselves, it should be noted -- the Orioles have steamrolled over lowly opponents to go 7-1 against a steady diet of nothing by the Rays and Padres.
      
That delivers some additional urgency to this upcoming homestand, which features three games each against the Los Angeles Angels, the Texas Rangers and the Rays again.
      
While Dave Dombrowski continues to hunt for pitching help, how the Red Sox play over the next nine games could either intensify his search or reduce it to unnecessary.
      
Should the Red Sox lose further ground while at home, it might result in Dombrowski refusing to mortgage any of his organization's future for a team that hasn't proven worthy of an upgrade.
      
Why sacrifice prospects in exchange for a starting pitcher or bullpen piece when the playoffs drift out of reach? And, yes, the Red Sox are going to need reinforcements to the rotation and the bullpen for next year either way, but if the Sox don't show signs of life soon, that effort can be put off until after the season.
      
Due to simple laws of supply and demand, the already exorbitant cost of pitching skyrockets before the trade deadline, since there are a handful of needy teams convinced that one additional arm could spell the difference between a trip to the World Series and missing the postseason altogether.
      
If a team isn't in need of immediate help, it's best to wait for November and December, when there's less of a sense of desperation to the whole exercise.
      
Beyond the matter of determining whether the Red Sox go all-in on 2016, there's the matter of job security for manager John Farrell.
      
Should the Sox continue to stumble, the All-Star break might give Dombrowski time and cause to evaluate whether it's time to make a change in the dugout.
      
If Dombrowski determines that the season can still be salvaged with a change of voice in the dugout, Farrell would be vulnerable. And if he decides that, regardless of playoff aspirations, he's seen enough in a half-season of observation that  Farrell isn't his choice to lead the club going forward, the four-day break would be time to reflect, then act on that evaluation.
      
Farrell challenged his team in a postgame meeting Monday, exhorting them to play to their potential, to trust in their teammates and play hard.
      
If that push doesn't yield tangible results in the next 10 days, a dark uncertainty -- for himself and the team he manages -- lies ahead.
      
The All-Star break offers upper management and ownership a time to take stock in what they have. If they don't like what they see in the next week and a half, the consequences could be felt soon.