boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
RED SOX 6, DEVIL RAYS 2

Ramirez has grand old time

He didn't leave a note or a message or anything. He just vanished, like the baseball he hit into the night sky in the third inning last night.

Manny Ramirez, who knocked in all six Sox runs on two home runs, Nos. 1 and 2 of his season, didn't stick around to bathe in the spotlight of a 6-2 win over Tampa Bay. Instead, he skipped out of Fenway Park, without speaking to the media, without so much as a shower, according to the Sox PR folks.

Really no need, it seems. Consider: Ramirez didn't have to catch a single ball -- no Devil Ray flied out to left -- and in four plate appearances he walked, homered twice, and flied out. All in a day's work, and all, evidently, without breaking a sweat.

"It was fun to sit in the dugout and watch what Manny did," said Boston starter Matt Clement, who won his first game as a Red Sox in his third attempt.

Ramirez -- he of 390 career home runs coming into the season -- had never gone this long to begin a campaign without going deep. Last night was game No. 11 for the Red Sox. The closest he'd come to this was 2003, when he hit homer No. 1 in game No. 9 (his 36th at-bat).

Last night, Ramirez launched No. 1 in his 39th at-bat of the season, a two-run shot that cleared the Monster seats in the third. He then came up the next inning with the bases loaded.

"You could feel it on the bench," reliever Alan Embree said. "We felt it coming."

Ramirez, on an 0-and-1 slider, cranked a grand slam off the base of the light tower below the Coke bottles, helping to move the Sox (6-5) above .500 for the first time this season.

It was Ramirez's 18th career grand slam, most among active players. The homer tied him for third on the all-time grand slam list with Willie McCovey and Robin Ventura, behind only Eddie Murray (19) and Lou Gehrig (23). It was Ramirez's 40th career multi-homer game (38 two-homer games, two three-homer games).

That was plenty for Clement, the $25.5 million offseason acquisition, who walked just two and struck out six in his Fenway debut before 35,106 on a 46-degree night.

Clement, who worked seven innings, threw 108 pitches, matching his pitch count in his most recent outing, Sunday in Toronto. But this time he threw 74 strikes, compared with the 59 he threw against the Blue Jays. Before last night, he'd thrown only 55 percent of his pitches this season (110 of 199) for strikes.

Clement set the tone early, striking out the second and fourth hitters of the game, Julio Lugo and Aubrey Huff, each on three pitches, each with a slider to end the at-bat. He then got Josh Phelps looking in the third at a cutter away. Clement said in three games he hasn't shaken off a Jason Varitek sign once. Varitek said that's probably not accurate, that it's probably happened a couple of times. But what's become evident is that Varitek has sat down with Clement many times in the last two months, listened to Clement explain what he does well and what he doesn't do well, and then built and amended a simple, yet effective plan.

"So he doesn't get confused with too many arm slots and too many grips," Varitek said.

Clement sounded much more confident last night than after his previous two starts.

"I was a little disappointed the first two games because I didn't build off what I did in the spring," said Clement, who walked only two hitters in 18 spring training innings, then walked eight in 10 1/3 to begin the season.

The last two nights provided the first wins for Clement and David Wells in their Red Sox careers in games the Sox won by a collective 16-2. It's rather interesting, two weeks into the season, to compare Wells and Clement with the men they're replacing, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.

Martinez and Lowe, in six combined starts, are 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 42 1/3 innings pitched. They've combined to strike out 44 and walk eight. Wells and Clement, also in six starts, are a combined 2-2 with a 4.11 ERA in 35 innings. They've combined to strike out 27 and walk 11.

The Sox gave Clement all of the support he'd need in two innings, the third and fourth. Johnny Damon singled to lead off the third, reached second on an errant pickoff attempt by starter Dewon Brazelton, then scampered to third base on a wild pitch. Damon scored on Ramirez's two-run homer off an 89-mile-per-hour Brazelton fastball.

Brazelton then put himself in the jam in the fourth that culminated in Ramirez's grand slam. The righthander, who threw 91 pitches, just 43 for strikes, began the inning with nine straight balls, walking Bill Mueller and Mark Bellhorn. Trot Nixon hit a ball off the end of his bat that Brazelton backed off of, as did third baseman Alex Gonzalez, loading the bases.

Ramirez, who began the night hitting .211 with four RBIs on the season, then roped an 81-m.p.h. slider into the light tower lattice in left for a 6-1 lead. In the 10 games to begin the season, he had just two extra-base hits, both doubles.

His six RBIs were the most by a Sox player since Nixon drove in six at Philadelphia Sept. 1, 2003.

Ramirez actually began last season somewhat slowly in the home run department. He needed 24 at-bats before launching his first homer in 2004, then led the league with 43. He hit just five last April, then nine in May, six in June, seven in July, nine in August, and seven in September.

"We obviously need him," said manager Terry Francona. "Hopefully, we'll go through a little stretch where he puts us on his shoulders."

red sox extras
SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives