Boston Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez made his official return to elite status by cranking the homeru that lifted Boston over the New York Yankees.
With only a single game separating the Red Sox from the Baltimore Orioles for the American League East division lead, Boston was hoping that some home cooking in Fenway Park, last night, would be just what they needed to gain more ground. Eduardo Rodriguez was supposed to be the host to greet the Yankees with a cold dish of domination. Instead, it was Hanley Ramirez and his mighty bat putting New York on ice.
Rodriguez only lasted 2.1 innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits. David Ortiz tried to help the cause by pounding a sacrifice fly to score Jackie Bradley Jr. in the bottom of the third inning; however, the Yankees scored another run in the top of the fourth to put the score at 5-1.
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It looked like the Yankees were hanging a black cloud over the cathedral of Boston, making sure that sorrow would fall upon the land if the Orioles were to win that same night. Even with Big Papi Ortiz blasting a ray of sun through the darkness in the eighth inning, hitting his 537th home run of his career, the Red Sox were still down 5-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
All hope seemed lost, unless Ortiz’s homer to pass Yankees legend Mickey Mantle was some kind of revelation. Ortiz came up to bat again and singled to score Dustin Pedroia to make the score 5-3. Then, Mookie Betts singled to score Xander Bogaerts, making it 5-4 and setting the table for Hanley Ramirez with two men on base and a frustrated Dellin Betances left on the mound for New York.
Ramirez, instead of swinging at everything in sight like last season, was patient and made Betances throw him strikes. Three out of the first four pitches were balls and, while he tried a nibble on a knuckle curve for a swinging strike, Ramirez feasted on a 98.6-mph fastball. He sent the offering over the fence in center field, never a doubt that he had just won the game as soon as it left his bat.
Sep 15, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez (13) is hugged by designated hitter David Ortiz (34) at Fenway Park. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees 7-5. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
It’s not like this victory was something new for Ramirez, but it was definitely a refreshing change from recent seasons of dry misery.
The three-time All-Star had taken a great deal of heat over the last few years. Those All-Star days were back when he played for the Florida Marlins, between 2008-2010. After hitting .246 to start the 2012 season, Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for not much in return. The numerous injuries that Hanley sustained in L.A. influenced the Dodgers to believe that his days as a shortstop were over. His .283 average and 71 RBIs were not enough for the Dodgers to keep him, so Ramirez was granted free agency in 2014.
Former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington seemed to believe that, while Hanley was no longer going to be a shortstop, his bat was useful enough to pay the Dominican native $88 million for four years. Hanley proceeded to hit just .249 in 2015, while racking up more injuries with laughable play in left field. Ramirez looked like he wasn’t taking his new defensive position seriously, only taking 20 flyballs a day in spring training, and it showed in his errors and terrible approach to fielding.
Ramirez seemed more like a giant bust than a ball-busting giant at the plate, not to mention the field. Then, in 2016, things changed.
Ramirez was moved to first base, with the idea that he couldn’t hurt the team too badly in the field at the position. His bat would remain in the lineup and would, hopefully, see a return to form. Instead, it was the defense that returned first. Ramirez asked to stay in preseason games to work on his new position, and the work paid off for him and the Red Sox. A .996 fielding percentage was on display this season, as Ramirez would scoop badly-thrown balls and he dove all over the place to snag sharp hits in his expanding range.
As his prowess at first base grew, his bat steadily improved. Ramirez had a good few months before hitting a wall in June, only hitting .229; however, the old Han-Ram surfaced through and hit over .300 for August and September to move his season average to .284.
Last night was the culmination of all his efforts and patience with his process. When the team needed him the most, Han-Ram announced his return with his 25th homer of the year, earning 100 RBIs. His .301 season average with runners in scoring position is a big reason why the Red Sox are enjoying their success at the moment.
The Orioles ended up losing their game last night, making it a two-game swing for the Red Sox lead in the division. Ramirez didn’t defeat the Yankees single-handed, as Ortiz had a great deal to do with the comeback, but Han-Ram banged the gong in that ninth frame. His home run wasn’t just a walk-off homer, it was a walk-off of the shade being thrown his way for so many years.
Red Sox Nation, the prodigal son has finally returned to the light.