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Red Sox 6, Orioles 3

Magic number

Ramirez becomes 24th major leaguer to hit 500 home runs

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / June 1, 2008

BALTIMORE - He stood at home plate long enough for Gilbert Stuart to sketch the outline of his portrait. Long enough for Armand LaMontagne to cut the first rough carvings of his sculpture. Long enough for Annie Leibovitz to frame her photograph just right.

Manny Ramírez posed long enough for history to share his gaze as he contemplated what he had just wrought with one powerful flick of his wrists at 9:29 p.m. last night. With a swing of his 34-inch, 32-ounce, all-black SSK maple bat, Ramírez sent a baseball deep into the Maryland night, the ball simultaneously landing in the right-center-field bleachers and the record books.

One hundred seventy-seven months after Ramírez hit his first home run as a 21-year-old playing in Yankee Stadium, the grand edifice whose shadows fall not far from the bodegas of Washington Heights where he grew up, the Red Sox left fielder hit the 500th home run of his career, one day after his 36th birthday.

It came with two outs and nobody on base in the seventh inning of Boston's 6-3 win over the Orioles, on his fourth at-bat of the game, and on the first pitch from Chad Bradford, the former Red Sox reliever whose submarine delivery had offered little mystery to Ramírez in earlier encounters and not a whit last night.

"It was great, especially since I've tried so hard to hit it the last three weeks to get it done," said Ramírez, wearing a gray T-shirt with oversized block red type that read, "Got 500" on the front. "Finally it came and I'm happy, I'm proud of myself and the things that I've accomplished."

With his Brazilian-born wife, Juliana, sitting among the crowd of 48,281 in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Ramírez hit Bradford's fastball 410 feet to become the 24th player in baseball history to join the 500 club, matching the uniform number on the road grays he wore last night. He becomes the third player to hit his 500th for the Red Sox, joining Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams, both in the Hall of Fame, a place where Ramírez undoubtedly has reserved some wall space of his own. He also becomes the second player from the Dominican Republic in that fraternity, joining Sammy Sosa, who finished his career with 609.

"I'm just proud to do it and move on," Ramírez said. "Now I can be myself and have fun."

The home run ball was collared by Damon Woo, a 40-year-old Sox fan originally from Nahant, Mass., who was sitting in Section 94 with his brother, Jason, who shielded him from the mad scrum that followed. After being escorted by an official from Major League Baseball on hand to authenticate the occasion, the brothers agreed to exchange the ball with Ramírez for autographed balls and bats, an uncommon act of unselfishness at a time when the baseball memorabilia market has set the price for such souvenirs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"This is it - we've got 500 and it's all yours," Damon Woo said to Ramírez as he presented him with the ball after he and his brother were ushered into the visitors' clubhouse.

Why give it up? "It's his achievement. It's his accomplishment. It's his ball," Woo said.

Sox spokesman John Blake said Ramírez intends to auction off the ball on behalf of a Boston-area children's charity.

Ramírez had had 16 previous at-bats against Bradford in his career and had hit safely eight times, including one home run.

The Sox had just taken a 4-3 lead in the seventh on a triple by Jacoby Ellsbury off reliever Lance Cormier and a sacrifice fly by David Ortiz off Baltimore's third pitcher, Jamie Walker, when Orioles manager Dave Trembley went to the mound and signaled for Bradford. During the break in play, 83-year-old Ernie Tyler, the Orioles' field attendant who has held his job for the last 48 years, trotted out to plate umpire Bob Davidson and presented him with four baseballs.

The baseballs all were stamped with an "M" over the MLB logo, marked by a number, and touched with a special dye that would show green when held under a light to help MLB authenticators verify the ball that Ramírez would launch into history.

The ball hit by Eddie Murray, the last man (and a former Ramírez teammate in Cleveland) to hit his 500th home run here 12 years ago, was sold for $500,000, so there was something beyond sentiment at stake here.

Ramírez, who had hit home run No. 499 Tuesday night in Seattle off Miguel Batista, had lined out to the track in left in the first inning, grounded to third in the third, and lined to left in the sixth when he came to the plate in the seventh, his 14th at-bat since connecting off Batista.

The loud concussion caused by ball striking bat left little doubt that he would be circling the bases. He slapped the hands of the base coaches, Luis Alicea at first, DeMarlo Hale at third. He passed his loquacious friend playing first base for the Orioles, Kevin Millar, not a word passing between them.

"I'm happy for him," said Millar, who caught a popup hit by Ramírez on his final at-bat, in the ninth inning. "He's got a uniqueness about him that makes him easy to like. He looks like a Brazilian rain forest guy. You take away the hair and the baggy uniform, he's just a guy that can hit."

Ramírez was met at home plate by the next Sox batter, Mike Lowell, who walked through Ramirez's proffered hand and embraced the Sox slugger.

"I told him I was so relieved they don't have to change balls anymore," Lowell cracked afterward. "Hopefully, someone got a good picture."

There would be more merriment in front of the Sox dugout, Ramírez engaging in what looked for all the world like ring-around-the-rosie with his Dominican lockermates, Ortiz and Julio Lugo. Then, he melted into the embraces, backslaps, and handshakes of the rest of the team, while the crowd, which would have been right at home at Fenway, celebrated.

One exuberant spectator performed wobbly somersaults on top of the visitors' dugout.

"What a cool moment," said Sean Casey, who broke into baseball with the Indians when Ramírez was already an established star in Cleveland and collected his first big league hit with a bat borrowed from Manny. "You talk to guys after you're done playing, what are the special moments, the cool moments you had in the game.

"Manny Ramírez hitting his 500th is a special moment."

When Ramírez went to his position at the end of the Sox seventh, he raised his gloved hand to the left-field stands in acknowledgment of their lusty cheers.

Dustin Pedroia and Ortiz had hit consecutive home runs in the third inning off Garrett Olson for the first Sox runs. Lowell was hit by a pitch and came around on Jason Varitek's base hit for the third run in the sixth, and Ellsbury, who already had stolen three bases for the second straight game, flashed flying feet as he tripled and then scored just ahead of Jay Payton's strong throw from left field on Ortiz's fly ball in the seventh.

The Orioles had strung a walk and three singles off Jon Lester for two runs in the second, and Brian Roberts had homered with one out in the fifth to give Baltimore a 3-2 lead.

Ortiz, whose home run was his 13th of the season, one behind league leader Carlos Quentin of the White Sox, gave the team a scare when he came out of the game shaking his left hand after hitting a ball foul in the ninth. X-rays were negative.

Sox manager Terry Francona was here as a coach with Detroit Sept. 6, 1996, when the switch-hitting Murray connected for his 500th home run. His father, Tito, was playing for the Indians June 17, 1960, when Williams hit his 500th home run in Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.

"I thought the players' reaction to Manny was awesome," Francona said. "I probably got a bigger kick out of that than anything else."

Ramirez has already assured one and all that he intends to hit 600. Last night, his goal was more modest. "I want to hit 501."

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