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Ramírez isn't letting his game slide

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It is late May and now we know where Manny Ramírez is.

He is smack in the middle of a Red Sox lineup that isn't quite clicking. The individual parts, however, often shine. If at some point J.D. Drew (three walks last night ) could ever get hot simultaneously with David Ortiz, Ramírez, and Mike Lowell, there will be no stopping them.

There might be no style points associated with Ramírez's night (4 for 4, walk), which fell a home run short of the cycle in a 7-4 win over the Texas Rangers.

Approached for comment after the game, Ramírez said, "No, thank you."

The belly-flop slide into third was hilarious; the two off-the-mark throws from left field to home plate on plays that could have been close were expected. The thing is, on most nights, Ramírez's deficiencies don't matter. He is playing hard, hustling on the bases, and his throws? Well, at least he's trying.

Ramírez is not the best left fielder in the game and he likely will never achieve his dream of winning a Gold Glove, but before games he does work on his throwing. He has always had a quick release, getting the ball back to the infield so runners can't take the extra base. As long as he doesn't destroy you in the field -- and he usually doesn't -- his bat is something special when he's hot.

When Ramírez indicated everything was all right with him after another offseason during which the Sox entertained trade discussions on his behalf, he evidently was telling the truth. At least his play seems to indicate that. Who knows if that will change tomorrow or the next day or sometime in September. But for now, Ramírez is a good citizen and a good player. Take advantage of it while it lasts, and with the Sox possessing an 11-game lead in the American League East, Ramírez has every reason to be happy.

The one day off manager Terry Francona gave him was May 6 at Minnesota. Otherwise, Ramírez has started 46 games in left and one as the designated hitter. While he started slowly, hitting as low as .188 on April 28, he's raised his average to .272. It appears his sweet stroke is back.

Ramírez is 10 for 21 (.476) on this road trip. In his last 11 road games, he's 21 for 47 (.447). And when he faces abysmal pitching -- which the Rangers have -- it is a major mismatch.

There was a single to right against Vicente Padilla in the second. Ramírez walked in the fourth. In the sixth, when 11 Sox batters came to the plate, he tripled to the corner in right field. It seemed that Sammy Sosa had to run a mile in quicksand to retrieve the baseball, and all the while Ramírez was running hard around the bases. He started his slide into third a bit late and his momentum carried him well over the bag. Luckily, Sosa's throw was still on the way, and Ramírez had enough time to put his hand on the bag, ask for time, and pop up smiling. It was his first triple this season and the 17th of career.

"He probably should have had a stand-up triple," said Alex Cora. "He didn't need to slide, but [third base coach] DeMarlo [Hale] told him to slide. He's so locked in right now. It seems when the weather starts to warm up, he gets hot with the bat. We were never worried about him."

In the seventh, Ramírez doubled to right-center. We then waited for one more at-bat, one chance for the cycle. In the ninth, if there was one bad pitch, it may have happened. But Ramírez simply smashed a single up the middle. His fourth hit -- and fifth time on base.

"I know what you're saying [about the cycle], but he took a good swing, stayed balanced, and hit one up the middle," Francona said.

One good thing about Ramírez's slow start is that he may not make the All-Star Game (unless the fans vote him in again), which he skipped last season with a sore right knee. Ramírez will need his rest. He's made enough All-Star teams anyway. When he reaches 500 homers, possibly this season (he needs 23), Ramírez will pretty much have cemented his place in Cooperstown five years after his retirement. As a voter, he gets my nod right now. I can't wait to hear his induction speech.

Ramírez has been fortunate to have played for two offensive-oriented franchises (Cleveland and Boston) his entire career. He used to have Jim Thome hitting around him, and now he has David Ortiz. With Ortiz hitting in front of him, he's going to see good pitches to hit.

During his recent trip to Boston, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was asked whom he preferred to face, Ortiz or Ramírez. "No disrespect to Manny Ramírez, but Ortiz is a special hitter," said Leyland. "You do things so you don't have to face him."

With all due respect to Leyland, one of the most respected people in baseball, Ramírez is much tougher to pitch to.

"This year I've seen a lot of teams try to pitch him up and away as a way of getting him out," said a National League scout at last night's game. "You could do that earlier in the season, but now that he's locked in, forget about it. He can hit any type of pitching. He can hit a guy who throws 98 and he can hit a guy who throws slop up there and mixes it up.

"I know what Jim Leyland means when he says Ortiz is special and he's dramatic, but Ramírez can just plain hit. Everyone's waiting for him to slow down and lose bat speed. I can tell you, he hasn't lost a thing."

Last night was proof of that. Ramírez put on a hitting clinic. A clinic of how to go with the pitch, how to drive the ball to the opposite field. He even ran the bases like there was no tomorrow, or as Francona and bench coach Brad Mills described the slide into third: "Pete Rose."