Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ramirez Clubs 500th Dinger

Before Saturday night's game, Manny Ramirez was joking around with virtually everyone he encountered. So, presumably, he was only kidding when he said that home run No. 500 would be an inside-the-parker.
Make no mistake about it: When Ramirez became the 24th player in Major League history to reach that lofty milestone, it was no inside job.
Ramirez -- who, ironically enough, has worn No. 24 his entire career -- got every bit of an 82-mph, first-pitch offering from former teammate Chad Bradford and sent it soaring high and far into the Baltimore night. The 410-foot blast -- a solo job to right-center -- came with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, and it boosted Boston's lead to 5-3 in a game it went on to win, 6-3.
With one swing, the burden of trying to satisfy Red Sox Nation was lifted.
"As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone. I was happy to move on," said Ramirez. "It was great. I've been trying so hard the past three weeks just to get it done. It finally came, and I'm happy. I'm proud of myself and all the things that I accomplished. So now I can go and have fun."
As Ramirez was mobbed -- first by close friends David Ortiz and Julio Lugo, then by the rest of the bench -- his wife, Juliana, sat in the stands and cried.
"I cried," said Juliana Ramirez. "I was so happy. I can't wait to see him and give him a big hug. It was so exciting. It was like a weight lifted off our shoulders. He had all those expectations. It's amazing. I'm shocked. He's very confident. We knew it would happen, but there was all those expectations from everybody."
In the aftermath of the satisfying milestone, Ramirez admitted just how much pressure he had been feeling.

"Especially every time you'd get out of the hotel, everybody would say, 'Hey, when are you going to hit it?' I'm just happy that everything is done so now I can go be myself and have fun," he said.
Making the hit all the more impressive is that Bradford is not a home-run inducer. The side-winding righty hadn't allowed a homer to a right-handed batter since May 2006. Since the beginning of 2005, he had only allowed four home runs before Ramirez unloaded.
With a large group of Red Sox fans at Camden Yards for this weekend series, the historic homer elicited roars that felt like they were right out of Fenway Park. It was so loud after Ramirez made contact that it was hard to believe the majestic shot came on the road.
"That's why they call it Red Sox Nation," Ramirez said. "They follow us everywhere. Everywhere we go, we get big support."
Naturally, the home run was caught by a Red Sox fan, Damon Woo. A native of Nahant, Mass., Woo lives in Manhattan and was attending the game with his brother Jason. Woo was escorted into the Boston clubhouse and personally presented the baseball to Ramirez after the game.
The Ramirez watch had been on for some time. By clubbing six homers in the season's first 19 games, he was at 496 on April 19.
But the last four took some time. Ramirez belted No. 499 on Tuesday night in Seattle before going homer-less in his next two games.
"You really feel very happy for him," said infielder Alex Cora. "He acted like a little kid. He just hit it, and you could feel the relief he felt. From now on, I'm telling you, he might get into the place he was early in the season, where he becomes very, very dangerous."
The smash came one day after Ramirez's 36th birthday. It was his 16th career homer at Camden Yards and his 10th of the 2008 season.
"It was great," said Ortiz, who presented Ramirez with a bottle of champagne after the game. "We were all looking forward to seeing that happen. Finally, it's over with. That's a good thing. We were getting on him every day -- hard. We told him, 'You can finally go and eat, and nobody's going to ask you to hit the 500th.' "
Teammates past and present were both thrilled to witness Ramirez's accomplishment. Kevin Millar, who was extremely close to Ramirez during his three seasons in Boston, was playing first base when No. 500 sailed out of the park in what seemed like an instant.
"He's got a uniqueness about him that's easy to like," said Millar. "He's very soft-hearted, and I think fans see that side of him now, more so than they did early in his career. You never judge a book by its cover, but when you look at him, he looks like this angry, mean Brazilian rain-forest guy. But you take away the hair and the baggy uniform and watch this guy hit, and he's special. He's one of the most dangerous right-handed hitters of this generation or ever to play the game."
Thanks to the Red Sox winning the game, they could fully take in the moment.
"We kind of talked about hoping it would be a situation where we had the lead," said manager Terry Francona. "I thought the players' reaction to Manny was awesome. You could tell the affection everybody had for him. It was nice to see. It was a good swing, not that it matters. I probably got a bigger kick out of watching his teammates, just the way they reacted to him."
Ramirez takes enormous pride in the legacy he's built.
"I'm proud of myself," he said. "I worked so hard for this. Especially my family, I want to thank my family for my support. And my teammates, I think we owe them. Like David, Lugo, Cora, Mikey [Lowell], [Dustin] Pedroia. Every day we battle, and we push each other."
What happened to those grand designs of an inside-the-parker?
"I was trying, but I've got a bad wheel," quipped Ramirez. "I'm just happy it's over with. I'm proud to do it here. I'm just happy to be part of history."

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