Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Game 98 - Red Sox

Red Sox 14, Tigers 5
Record: 58-40

Slump, schmump. The Sox had scored 17 runs in 6 games prior to scoring 23 in their last 2. The doomsayers in Greater Baahston had begun to wonder if the offense was showing signs of wear. Well, not so much, I guess. The Sox hit early and often in this one, clubbing 9 doubles and batting around twice against the relatively defenseless Tigers. Manny Ramirez was 4-for-4 with a homer, double, and 3 ribbies before being lifted for a pinch-hitter.

I haven't spent nearly enough time talking about Manny Ramirez in this space in recent weeks. Hell, I think Casey Fossum's received more cyberink. I think it's because Manny is so utterly dependable, and so consistent in his mastery of his craft that he doesn't stand out. He's been in the top 5 in the American League in OPS for the last 5 years, led the league in batting last season, is on pace for a .320, 38 HR, 124 RBI, .993 OPS season (which would, amazingly, be his worst in 6 years), and I can't remember to talk about him.

Simply put, Manny is a hitting savant. He doesn't talk to the media (or, for that matter, his teammates), he doesn't run all that fast, or field all that well (though his arm is underrated), doesn't do chest bumps or have a signature homerun trot, and appears for all the world that he's playing a pickup game on a sandlot in Brooklyn. But when he gets in the batter's box, he's a maestro. His swing is effortless, but the ball explodes off his bat. He seems to get into two-strike counts on purpose, so he can shorten his swing and drive the ball into the gap in right-center. His understanding of the strike zone is clinical, and his ability to hit the ball to all fields makes him nearly unpitchable. He is the anchor of the best lineup the Sox have fielded in 60 years, but he gets more attention for his personal eccentricities than for his on-field play.

He makes $20 million a year, but newspapers reported in May that he hadn't cashed a paycheck to that point in the season. He's an odd, childlike, silly man, who hits the snot out of everything he sees. Kind of refreshing in a lot of ways, and a great fit with a Red Sox lineup that doesn't seem to have very many me-first sort of guys. Even the superstars, like Pedro and Nomar, seem to be stand-up, team-oriented types - the Boston media's smear campaigns notwithstanding. I hope that Manny keeps standing in there and mashing the ball well into October, but maybe he could put those checks in the bank - the New England economy could use the boost.

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