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Ramirez baffled people, never more so than when his obliviousness carried onto the field. In Game 2 of the 1995 World Series, Ramirez got picked off first base by Atlanta Braves catcher Javy Lopez. By the time Ramirez got back to the dugout he was smiling. In the '98 American League Championship Series, Ramirez leaped for a ball hit by New York's Derek Jeter, only to have it land at his feet.
Not many people took these lapses too seriously. The best thing that people said about Ramirez was that he was some sort of hitting savant, a lost boy with a golden swing. The formulation infantilized him and minimized the work he'd done to refine that talent. "I always knew I'd get where I am," he says, "because I know I busted my ass to get here."
In 2001, after a protracted bidding war that was documented on film by ESPN, Ramirez signed that huge $160 million contract and came to Boston, bringing his personality and swing to a city that takes its baseball only slightly less seriously than it takes itself.
The swing has shell-shocked the Seattle Mariners. Freddy Garcia (who would wind up with the Chicago White Sox when Seattle started dispatching the lifeboats in late June) left too much of a low fastball over the plate on May 29, and Ramirez hit it over the Green Monster, over the seats atop the Green Monster and into the letter h on a billboard above the seats above the wall.
It was not the most impressive home run Seattle pitchers had surrendered to the swing. That had been the one the night before, when Joel Pineiro had thrown another fastball just above the shoe tops, and Ramirez had belted it 380 feet the other way, into the Red Sox' bullpen in rightfield.
"That one was ridiculous," general manager Theo Epstein said afterward. "No one in baseball hits that ball out where he hit it, down and in. You can't even learn from that." People were still talking about that home run the next day, even after Garcia had given up his own.
"He's one of the guys you say you can't let beat you, and he does it anyway," says Seattle manager Bob Melvin. "If he does something like that, takes a low pitch that far the other way, there's not much you can do."
A couple of hours after making his mistake, Garcia leans in toward a bank of small TV monitors. "Too much," he says. "Too much of the middle."
Not that much, he's told. Pretty good pitch.
"Enough," Garcia says. "Just enough for Manny."