ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Not long after David Ortiz's 500th home run, Theo Epstein, the man who originally brought him to the Red Sox, paid homage to perhaps his greatest acquisition.
"As David always used to say, 'Hitting is hard, bro.' And he's still performing at this level all these years later. Amazing," said Epstein, the president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs.
And because of his amazing career, Ortiz will likely get to Cooperstown, N.Y., in a Red Sox cap about seven years from now.
It's not that the 500 homers sealed his Hall of Fame credentials, but when you include that number — which only 27 players have attained — and combine that with amazing postseason numbers, three championships, and the fact that he is the greatest DH who ever lived, it's almost crazy not to vote for Ortiz.
After his accomplishment, Ortiz was asked about it.
"I don't want to talk about Hall of Fame, he said. "I'm still playing. I'm going to continue building up numbers . . . I got to that number, I accomplished what not too many players have accomplished. I'm going to keep playing the game and when that time comes, I'll pay attention to that.
"Once you stop playing, you have to wait another five years [for Hall of Fame eligibility] and trust me, I'm gonna party and have fun when I'm done with this game and I'm not gonna worry about that for five years."
Will he be the first pure DH to get voted in?
Will he penalized by appearing on a list of 103 players who tested positive for a banned substance in 2003, which was supposed to be anonymous and relevant only in triggering real drug testing and penalties for positive tests going forward?
Ortiz will have the DH stigma, and the positive test to overcome. Like he said, his Hall candidacy won't come for at least another seven years. He's scheduled to play next season, and if he has a decent year, he'll likely play in 2017.
As a Hall of Fame voter, the decision was made long before he hit his 500th homer.
He's got my vote.
The impact of his career is rather amazing and unique. He hits all of the checkpoints for this voter. In football, we look at quarterbacks and judge them, in part, by how many Super Bowls they've won. High performance at the most pressurized moments, the biggest stage, the pinnacle of the sport, Ortiz was there.
He won three rings. As a designated hitter, he was the biggest threat on great-hitting teams.
And on Saturday night, there was no stopping him.
Ortiz knew full well that he hits Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore very well. Manager Torey Lovullo wanted to give Ortiz the day off. But Ortiz wouldn't have it. Instead he'll take Sunday's series finale off.
Lovullo didn't think Ortiz vetoed the sit-down because he had strong numbers against Moore (.421, 8 for 19, one homer, four RBIs), but that had to be on Ortiz's mind as he decided to play.
Then he reinforced the decision as only he can, producing his 33d homer of the season in his first at-bat, a majestic shot to right field with two aboard to give the Red Sox a 3-0 lead.
Just one more for 500.
In the fifth, it happened. A hard-hit homer to right field on a 2-2 curveball by Moore that Ortiz was all over.
The Red Sox dugout erupted as Ortiz did a slow trot around the bases. Teammates came out to congratulate him. The bullpen rushed toward Ortiz.
The crowd was on its feet, though there were some boos from Rays' fans.
Ortiz said afterward he retrieved the 500 ball from a man from Virginia who was wearing an Orioles jersey. Ortiz said he offered the man "a package" of things and the man obliged.
Ortiz, who now has 95 RBIs, has provided Boston fans great pleasure over a sensational career in which he was reborn after he was picked up on waivers by Epstein in the offseason before 2003. Epstein had already picked up Jeremy Giambi for the DH role before acquiring Ortiz.
The fact that Giambi didn't work out the way Epstein had envisioned opened the door for Ortiz.
He went from platoon player to slugger. He, for the most part, won his battle against his Achilles' jheel — lefty pitchers — and went on to become one of the most formidable lefthanded sluggers in history.
And his postseason prowess is second to none — sorry Sabermetrics guys — but he's one of the best clutch hitters to ever wear a uniform.
As Ortiz turns 40 in November, there doesn't seem to be a slowing down of his bat speed. He's still one of the most feared hitters in the game. He still has the ability to alter a game with one swing.
Every time he came up the past few days you felt like he was going to get No. 500 relatively soon. Ortiz has five home runs in his past seven games.
It would have been nice if he had done it at home. At Fenway. It would have been big.
While there are a lot of Red Sox fans among the 15,000 or so that attend these games (there were 20,698 at Tropicana Field last night), so many of the Rays' fans still boo Ortiz.
It shows you what a poor fan base this is. First, they don't support their team, which is usually competitive given the Rays' miniscule payroll, and second, Ortiz is an icon and should be treated with respect.
Granted there's past bad blood between Ortiz and Rays righty Chris Archer over their little brouhaha after Ortiz was thought to be slow-mo-ing a home run trot. Big deal. That's Ortiz's style. If anyone has the right to do that it's Ortiz, who has been one of the game's great sluggers and a great ambassador for baseball throughout his Red Sox career.
Ortiz spoke well of the Rays and their great pitching and young players after the game. "I have a lot of respect for the Rays," he said.
But in some way doing it against a Rays team he's had trouble with through the years had to be somewhat satisfying.
Somewhere in Chicago, Epstein had to be pretty content, knowing that one of his first impact acquisitions with the Red Sox became a 500-home run hitter.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.