BOSTON (AP) - David Ortiz's return to elite-hitter status has helped carry the AL East-leading Red Sox into solid position for a postseason berth for the first time in five seasons.
Ortiz went 0 for 4 in Monday's 3-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in a matchup of first-place teams.
He's hitting .312 with 24 homers and 85 RBIs, and needs just two hits to become the 39th player in major league history with 2,000 hits, 400 homers and 1,400 RBIs.
"A (heck) of a career," he said, smiling. "Hopefully it remains successful."
"He's the cornerstone of our offense," manager John Farrell said recently.
During Boston's 69-win season in 2012, Ortiz spent all but one of the final 72 games on the disabled list with a right Achilles injury.
Early in the offseason, he signed a two-year, $26-million deal that had many wondering if club's investment was worthwhile for a 37-year old player.
Now, entering the home stretch in his 11th season with the Red Sox, he's still one of the game's most feared hitters.
Ortiz, though, had some concerns when he missed all of spring training with lingering Achilles soreness.
"To be honest with you, I didn't think I was going to be able to do what I can do right now, especially after I had that setback in spring training," he told The Associated Press, sitting at his locker before Monday's game.
"They said, 'That's part of the process. You'll be fine. We're going to take it slowly and you're going to be able to do your thing normally, you just have to keep working,'" he said.
"They were right. I remember when I went to rehab in Triple-A, all I wanted to do was put the ball in play so I could take off running to see how I feel.
"Man, I started feeling good, started playing and, Thank God, I'm here. I give a lot of credit to the doctors, the team, the owners and the people believing what I can do. Because of that, I keep on working my butt off to give my best every day."
But Ortiz remembers when he needed an attitude adjustment, dedicating himself more to the gym.
Five years ago, he had a partially torn tendon in his left wrist. After that, he vowed to work harder to get to where he's at today.
"I felt like I wasn't in the shape I need to be to play the game," he said. "I was getting older. I got to the point where I wanted to do things more often to stay on top of my game."
Ortiz understands the questions about performance-enhancement drugs that are still an issue in the game. He knows people look at aging players and question their ability to put up big numbers. To him, hard work pays off.
"I never stop. As long as you want to play baseball, you have to continue working because you want to keep up with your game," he said. "Things get harder as you get older and the opposition keeps on looking at me the same way. They treat me the same way and keep on pitching me the same way.
"To keep up with that you've got to keep working harder. I know a lot of things are going on in our era playing baseball, a lot of negativity and a lot of things are happening where the negativity comes from. I'm a huge believer if you keep working hard, you can see the results."
But, with age, he also feels things more with his body.
"I know I'm playing well, and things have got better than what it was last year," he said. "I really, really, have to go at it harder. I think this is a time that I (work) at it more than ever in my career, working harder.
"You wake up some days and it's like your body's, 'Not today.' When the game shows up, that's the fun part. Behind the scenes is the tough part. You have to get here early go to the gym and go to the video room."
Ortiz hasn't decided what he'd like to do after his contract ends next season.
One thing he knows for sure is he'll never stop working.
"When I tell people I want to stick around longer, it's not because of the money," he said. "I've got money. It's not me sitting on anything. There's always going to be people questioning. People are always going to question. They never learn.
"Good players are going to be good players. They're always going to find a way to do things right. That's why there's two different levels of players - average players and superstar players.
"The reason some don't make it to the superstar level is because their mentality is different," he said. "Look at me. What should I be doing now, sitting on my contract? I'm going to get paid for the next year. That's not my nature. I'm think about getting another ring."
And he wants to remain one of the game's most productive hitters until he retires from the game.
"When I step to the plate that's all I'm thinking, 'Change the game, do something to help this ballclub win,'" he said.
"Peddy (Dustin Pedroia), he's the same thing. That's all he wants to do is help this ballclub win. A player like that you want on your ballclub, especially in today's day where they pay all the big money."