In familiar situation, Ramirez shines
Rookie's fourth slam sets rookie record, nets big win for Sox
CHICAGO -- It was a situation Alexei Ramirez has found himself in many times this season -- at the plate with the bases loaded, the score tied and the game on the line.
The offense had stalled in most of its other opportunities leading up to this one in the sixth inning on Monday. Before the at-bat, while Tigers reliever Gary Glover warmed up on the mound at U.S. Cellular Field, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called Ramirez over to the dugout. He told the Cuban-born rookie to be patient and relax. Try not to do too much, the skipper said.
"I'm going to do what I've always done," Ramirez told his manager. "Have confidence in me. I'm going to go out there and get those runners home somehow."
And he did. Swinging at the first pitch from Glover may not have been the patient approach, but it was certainly the right one.
Left fielder Marcus Thames didn't run too far before he looked up and watched the ball travel 388 feet over the wall to give the White Sox a 6-2 lead, putting them in position to secure the most important win of the season. And for Ramirez, the most important hit of his career in the Major Leagues.
"The Cuban Missile," as he's called by his teammates and manager, raced around the bases. He pumped his fist as he rounded second base, clapped his hands on his way past third and leapt into the arms of Paul Konerko, who was waiting for him at home plate.
The White Sox went on to win, 8-2, but the game was all but over after Ramirez's grand slam. It was a do-or-die situation in a must-win game that gave the White Sox co-ownership of first place in the American League Central. Now they must face the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. CT on TBS and MLB.TV to determine who goes on to the playoffs and who stays home.
"I'm thrilled that, more than anything, that I've had the opportunity," said Ramirez, whose fourth grand slam of the season set a rookie record and tied Albert Belle's franchise record. "[I'm thrilled] that it's been possible for me to do this and to help the team to hit those grand slams to help the team win."
Ramirez wasn't quite sure what he would be doing if he were still in Cuba today and not been signed to a four-year deal with the White Sox. Perhaps preparing for competition with the Cuban national team, he said, or just spending time with his family.
But he's quite sure that his fans back home were celebrating his moment.
"I think people in Cuba that have access to TV or radio and were able to watch this are very happy," Ramirez said through translator Lou Hernandez. "They know that I'm always going to give them everything I have. I've always given them everything I have. I left it all on the field in Cuba. I think they're really happy."
Ramirez said his Cuban team was routinely in the playoffs, and having played in the Olympics and other international games, he understood the situation he found himself in on Monday.
Handling pressure hasn't been a problem for Ramirez all season. Twelve of his 21 homers have come in the seventh inning or later. When he comes to the plate in those situations, he simply treats it like he would any other at-bat.
"I'm thinking about that at-bat," Ramirez said of his approach at the plate. "I'm thinking about that pitcher, and forgetting about all the other at-bats that I've had in prior games and even this game.
"I'm never looking for any [specific] pitch. I have my zone. If the ball crosses my zone, then I'm going to hit it. If it's there, if it's in the middle, it's going to get hit."
His teammates have been particularly impressed with that approach.
"He's very consistent in his plan up there," Konerko said. "He's very aggressive. He stays with it and doesn't change. So when he gets a good fastball to hit, that's what happens. It was good timing. He scuffled a bit over the weekend [against Cleveland]. When he came up, it just made sense he was going to do something good."
When you look at him, one wouldn't know Ramirez had home run power. The skinny second baseman has to get it from somewhere, and when Guillen was asked, he couldn't say for sure.
"I don't know his mom; I don't know his dad. I don't think he's using illegal stuff if you [look at] his body," Guillen said with a laugh. "He never ate well back home. Maybe he started eating better here in the United States."
Or maybe he just kept eating what he always ate. Whatever it was that allowed him to keep playing the way he's always played.
David Just is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.