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Sky's the limit for Ramirez

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / March 22, 2008

TOKYO - It was quite likely with a glint in his eye that Sean Casey leaned in and made the suggestion. What about 800? He wasn't serious, not really. But with Manny Ramírez predicting 600 home runs for his career, then 700, where else was the next place to look?

He won't get there, of course. With 490 homers in his 15-year career, even 700 might be far-fetched. But not if you listen to the slugger, who is planning to have some years left in Boston, years in which to round out his legacy, pick up the big numbers, and end it all in a place he hasn't always wanted to be. He's happy now, and he's happy to share.

"Just another milestone that I'm going to accomplish," Ramírez said before the Red Sox' 6-5 exhibition win over the Hanshin Tigers Saturday, of reaching 500 home runs. "But my train doesn't stop there. Six hundred. I want to play because I love the game. If I play six more years, why not? I'm pretty sure I'm going to reach it.

"If my body feels good, I'm going to keep playing. Why stop? You love the game, why you've got to stop? Age is just a number."

Ramírez, who will be 36 in May, has said this spring that he is not just hoping but expecting the Red Sox to pick up both options on his contract, each for a year at $20 million. That might seem like a hefty price for a slugger with a 2007 stat line of .296, 20 home runs, and 88 RBIs. But Ramírez believes it won't be an issue, that he's ready to head back to the level that has been expected of him over his certain Hall of Fame career.

"They're not stupid," Ramírez said. "They know. They know I can play and I'm ready. That's it. I'm going to get the two options, then I'm going to get a four-year deal. I'm just going to go and get it."

Though general manager Theo Epstein might have something to say about that, there's no reason for the Red Sox to worry about Ramírez's option until the end of the season. The team can hold back and wait to see if he continues his downward trend, or if he uses the strength gained at Athletes' Performance in the offseason to regain his stroke.

"We've come to expect a lot from him," manager Terry Francona said, before Ramírez went 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts against Hanshin. "It's unfair. We expect him to be slump-proof. That's probably why he's one of the greatest hitters ever to play this game. He's that good.

"It's fun to listen. I know he's been giving [the media] a little bit this spring, but when you hear him talk about hitting, it's phenomenal. He understands it. He's not just gifted, he understands it. When he starts talking, guys listen. Good hitters listen."

And for now, Ramírez seems content, having won two World Series with the Red Sox in the last four years. He brushed off questions about his often turbulent past in Boston, saying, "I ain't got no trouble with Boston."

He's reading, too, moving on from "The Secret" to a book in Spanish whose title he couldn't quite recall. He's enjoying his third trip to Japan, after journeys in 1998 and 2004, though the second was cut short when he decided he'd rather not be in the country. He's spending his time in Tokyo eating sushi and plans on using the offday, Monday, to sightsee, to take pictures, to be a regular tourist.

He's meditating on his place in the game, on the place that he and David Ortiz occupy in the history of baseball.

"We're the best, the best 1-2 punch," Ramírez said, before clarifying that he meant "ever."

If that's true, if the duo can continue to dominate, if they can get back to the home runs and clutch hits that have marked virtually every season of theirs (save, perhaps, 2007), then another of Ramírez's predictions just might come true.

"Sky's the limit," he said. "It's nothing impossible in life. If everybody in this room gets the same thought and we're thinking right, there's no way. We've got the group of guys that we won with last year, so there's no doubt that we can't do it again. Nothing is impossible."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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