Can one swing of the bat be worth $88 million?
Probably not, but if one swing could be worth $88 million, then the one that Hanley Ramirez put into a 99 mile-per-hour Delin Bentances fastball in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday night just might be that swing.
That’s what can happen when the Red Sox are playing the Yankees, when your team is down 5-1 in the bottom of the eighth, 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth, and 5-4 with two outs, and two on against one of the hardest throwing young relievers in all of baseball, and you blast a baseball 426 feet to dead center to end the game.
That was Hanley Ramirez’s night on Thursday.
He was 1-for-5, not exactly a great night, but that one..oh that one.
Baseball is an odd sport, in most sports a win of Thursday’s magnitude would most likely represent a massive momentum shift in the Red Sox favor.
There are still three games left in the Yankees-Red Sox series this weekend, and even when that concludes, there’s a three-game set left to be played in the Bronx in a week-and-a-half.
For Hanley Ramirez, Thursday night represents the culmination of a season that was supposed to make-up for an abysmal 2015 and has instead most likely validated his entire contract which runs through the end of the 2018 season.
I’m not sure what Ramirez would have to do, or not-do between now and the end of the 2018 season to place himself back in the doghouse, but it would most likely have to something massively bad.
Prior to the start of this season, Ramirez was really in no better place than Pablo Sandoval. Both players had signed large, longterm free agent contracts prior to the 2015 season.
Both players had spent the entire 2015 season either hurt, or playing poorly or a combination of both.
Both players had ostensibly made commitments to turn things around in 2016.
One player did, one player did not.
Sandoval showed up late to spring training, wasn’t in the best shape, spent the exhibition season being out played by Travis Shaw in the field and slumping at the plate. Sandoval lost his starting third base job, and less than two weeks into the regular season it was revealed he needed season-ending shoulder surgery.
Hanley Ramirez had a new position. Ramirez showed up at spring training and immediately committed himself to being the best first baseman he could be. He had a new look at the plate and the hopes were that if he could stay healthy, he could get back to being the potent offensive player the Red Sox thought they had signed prior to the 2015 season.
It is September 16th, Ramirez is slashing .284/.356/.492 with 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in.
In most seasons those would be great numbers, this year, up until Thursday night his production had largely been overlooked. It wasn’t anything against Ramirez, it was just that both Mookie Betts and David Ortiz are in the midst of MVP-caliber seasons. Dustin Pedoria looks like he might win the batting title, and young stars Jackie Bradley Jr and Xander Bogaerts have both had hitting streaks of 25 games or longer.
Ramirez’s stats have been good all season long, in fact if you exclude a rough month of June, Hanley Ramirez’s season stats have been really good all season long. June was a down month for Ramirez. He slashed just .229/.324/.396, hit only four home runs and drove in just 14. For context this month Ramirez has hit six home runs and driven in 16, and the month is only half over.
Not only is Ramirez peaking at the most important time of the season, but he’s coming up big in big situations and no situation was bigger than Thursday night’s.
A walk-off win is always important. A walk-off win when your team was down 5-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth is fairly unlikely and when you hit the walk-off home run with your team still trailing 5-4 to win the game 7-5, and that win comes against an upstart version of your team’s oldest and greatest rival, well that’s a season making, contract validating home run for the ages.
Regular season baseball rarely features legendary games.
There are too many games to turn one game into a legendary one. Generally speaking regular season baseball games get remembered more for individual exploits than final scores.
No-hitters, perfect games, hitting for the cycle, hitting three or even four home runs in a single game, a five-hit game, driving in six or more runs.
Sometimes though the final score is the big story. Sometimes one win can actually shift a team’s momentum and transform the overall atmosphere that surrounds a team.
The 2016 Boston Red Sox took the field Thursday night occupying first place in the hotly contested American League East.
They had a well-deserved reputation for a high-powered offense that won a lot of games in which their offense simply pummeled the opposition. They also had a well-deserved reputation for not winning close games, or games in which they needed to comeback in the late innings.
Over the course of the last two innings of Thursday night’s game, the Red Sox sought to undo all of those assumed negatives.
David Ortiz trimmed a 5-1 lead to 5-2 by bashing his 34th home run of the season, and the 537th of his storied career. That set the stage for the dramatic ninth.
When Chris Young tried to score from third base on a Xander Bogaerts ground ball, but he got caught in rundown between home and third and was tagged out for the second out of the ninth. There were still two on, but there were two outs and the Red Sox still trailed 5-2.
That’s when things started to happen.
Ortiz smacked a single to score Pedroia, 5-3.
With Ortiz now representing the tying run, Red Sox manager John Farrell inserted Marco Hernandez into the game as a pinch runner for Ortiz.
Mookie Betts, the slumping MVP candidate then broke out of his slump to hit an RBI single which scored Bogaerts, 5-4 Yankees lead, still two outs.
That brought up Hanley.
Ramirez was having a great September, but a not-so-great Thursday. Three groundouts and pop-out, he was 0-for-4.
That all changed on Delin Betances fifth pitch of the at-bat and 21st pitch of the inning. That was when Ramirez absolutely pummeled a ball to dead-center for a dramatic and much-needed 7-5 Red Sox win. The win pushed the Baltimore Orioles two games back in the AL East and dropped the Yankees to five games back, it also pushed the Yankees three games out of a wild card berth.
One swing by Hanley Ramirez validated his contract, seared his bounce-back season into the minds of Red Sox fans, and hopefully changed the entire culture of the 2016 Red Sox. Maybe Thursday night’s game will be remembered in a similar fashion to that game against the Yankees back in July of 2004? That was the game where Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek got into a fight, that was a back-and-forth affair that was won when Bill Mueller hit walk-off home run off of Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth.
Can this Red Sox team comeback in the late innings? Yes they can. Can they win close games against divisional rivals? Yes they can? Can they keep this momentum going through September and deep into October? That remains to be seen, but if they do, then everyone will look back to Thursday night, September 15th as the season’s turning point.