David Ortiz Building on Clutch Legend, Gunning for Historic Farewell Season

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMay 15, 2016

Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz, right, watches his game-winning double in front of Houston Astros' Jason Castro during the 11th inning of a baseball game in Boston, Saturday, May 14, 2016. The Red Sox won 6-5. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

How much will David Ortiz add to the legend in his final season?

Based on the early returns, as much as he can.

The Boston Red Sox's longtime designated hitter went into Saturday's tilt with the Houston Astros at Fenway Park already having a terrific season, and it only got better in a 6-5 win. In fact, it says a lot that Ortiz's solo home run in the third inning was the least consequential of his three hits.

The second of Big Papi's three hits was a two-out RBI triple in the ninth inning that knotted the score at 5-5. It looked and sounded like this:

Two innings later, Ortiz sent everyone home happy with an RBI double. Let us also pay homage to this with our eyes and ears:

The dinger Ortiz hit earlier in the game was the 513th of his career, putting him ahead of Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews on the all-time home run list and in sole possession of the No. 22 spot. And in also getting his 600th career double, he became just the third member of the 500-home run/600-doubles club alongside Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron.

So, Ortiz had an OK day at the office. And as Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald was around to hear, the one parting shot the 40-year-old offered to reporters was all too perfect for a guy who wants to be played by Samuel L. Jackson in a movie:

Spoken like one of the greatest clutch hitters of all time. And wouldn't you know, Ortiz's latest walk-off hit was the 20th of his career. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that's the most of anyone in the last 30 years. 

And that's only scratching the surface of what he's done in the clutch.

Ortiz has done about as well in high-leverage situations (baseball-ese for high-pressure moments) as you'd expect. He entered Saturday with a .936 career OPS in such situations, which was already good enough to place him among the top 20 hitters ever with a minimum of 1,000 high-leverage plate appearances. His game-tying triple and game-winning double only pushed him higher.

"What makes David so good in those spots is he never comes out of his approach; his heart rate I don't think really elevates that much," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, via Brian McTaggart and Aaron Leibowitz of MLB.com. "He's hitting in those moments with such clarity, and he's done it so often that he's extremely confident in those key spots."

Of course, this arguably isn't even a discussion worth having. The correlation between great clutch hitters and great hitters, period, is pretty darn strong. A good poster boy for the idea is Alex Rodriguez. He's not known as a great clutch hitter, but his .962 career high-leverage OPS trumps even Big Papi's.

Even still, there's no denying the shoe fits on Ortiz. If nothing else, at least his reputation in the clutch is in line with his numbers in the clutch. And then there's the fact that even once you get past all his high-leverage dominance in the regular season, you still have to sort through his postseason highlights.

And the way he's going this season, Ortiz may get a chance to add to that, too.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Ortiz reiterated to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that he's still planning on going the way of Chipper Jones in 2012, Mariano Rivera in 2013 and Derek Jeter in 2014. But he can expect to keep getting asked that question, as what he's doing in his farewell tour blows away what they did in theirs.

Through 34 games, Big Papi is hitting .320 with 10 home runs and a 1.101 OPS. This is him flirting with the finest season of his career. And with only Jose Altuve leading him in adjusted offense, Ortiz is having a season almost as good as anyone in 2016.

Jeter, by comparison, was one of baseball's worst players in 2014. Jones was good in 2012, but not nearly one of baseball's best hitters. And though Rivera was really good in 2013, he'd done better.

It's not just those three Ortiz could put to shame in his swan song. He could become one of only four players ever to post an OPS over 1.000 in his final season. Even better, the 48 homers Ortiz is on pace for what would shatter Dave Kingman's final-season record of 35. 

BOSTON, MA - MAY 14:  David Ortiz #34 hugs Xander Bogaerts #2 after hitting a game winning double against  the Houston Astros in the eleventh inning on May 14, 2016  at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Ima
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

And at this point, it's hard to find excuses for why Ortiz can't do either. He's basically been as good as ever as he's gotten older, and the tear he's on now stretches back to last season. In over 400 plate appearances since the 2015 All-Star break, he's hitting .323 with a 1.102 OPS.

For now, it's all in service to a Red Sox offense that, as Owen Watson of FanGraphs noted, is outperforming even the 1927 New York Yankees. That's helped push Boston to a 23-14 record that has it in line for a return to the postseason. Since we all know what he can do, it's time to start wondering if Ortiz's farewell tour could result in something else Jones, Rivera and Jeter couldn't achieve: going the distance.

Whatever the case, it's already clear Big Papi won't be going out with a whimper. One way or another, his legend shall end with a bang.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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