BOSTON (CBS) – The numbers now look like this: precisely 25 home runs, 100 RBI, the second-best OPS at his position in the American League and representative defense that has him ranked sixth at his position among 13 qualifying players in the AL.
And then there is this: Hanley Ramirez is on pace for between 145 and 150 games played, his highest total with a single team in any one season since 2009, when he was 25 years and the National League batting champion.
All together now: we were wrong about Hanley.
I was wrong about Hanley.
At least this year.
The Red Sox rallied for a dramatic, improbable and downright inspiring 7-5 win over the New York Yankees at Fenway Park Thursday night, and here’s how it ended: with Sir Hanley blasting a 99-mile per hour fastball from Dellin Betances into the center field bleachers for a two-out, game-winning three-run home run that gave the Red Sox a pulsating 7-5 victory. Coupled with Baltimore’s loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the blow restored the Red Sox’ two-game lead in the division in a nip-and-tuck AL playoff race that is becoming historic right before our very eyes.
Somewhere out there, John Henry was nodding, Ben Cherington was smiling and even Dave Dombrowski was thumbing his nose at the doubters. After all, Henry gave Hanley the money, Cherington thought he could come back here (albeit as a left fielder) and Dombrowski both kept him and moved him to first base.
But the real credit here goes to Hanley, who is reminding us, especially in the second half of this wildly entertaining Red Sox season, that he has game-changing talent. Unlike many of the hitters in the Boston lineup, Hanley can hit good pitching. (Many of the others are still up for debate.) He has won a batting title. He has a career postseason batting average of .356. Ramirez can drive the ball to all fields, hit both left-handers and right-handers, and all of that makes him a terribly difficult man to pitch to in any situation.
Assuming, of course, that Hanley is focused and engaged.
This year, to his credit, Ramirez has generally remained both, though let’s not rewrite history, either: what has made a difference has been Ramirez’ second-half power surge, which altered his season. (He had only eight home runs at the break.) Excluding the otherworldly Brian Dozier, only Adrian Beltre and Khris Davis (18 home runs each) have more second-half home runs than Ramirez (17) ; only Dozier (55) has more RBI. (Ramirez has 52.)
And this month? Among Red Sox regulars, the team leaders in OPS are David Ortiz (1.133) and Ramirez (1.041), which should sound awfully familiar. Over the last dozen or so seasons, after all, when their Red Sox have been at their offensive best, the refrain was often the same. Ortiz and Ramirez. Ortiz and Ramirez. Ortiz and Ramirez.
But we digress.
Where does this all go from here? Only heaven knows. The Red Sox now have only 16 games left, all in the division, and every pitch matters. The possible reasons behind Ramirez’ renaissance this season are, of course, complicated. Maybe he needs to be in the infield. Maybe he’s healthy. Maybe he wants to play for Ortiz. Or maybe he has grown up. Whatever the case, the Red Sox need Hanley now more than ever, just as they need everyone, because there are important games to be played and won, because there are a playoff spot and division title at stake, and because for the first time in a long time the Red Sox and their fans can smell something inarguably distinct.