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They sure wouldn’t trade this

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / September 23, 2009

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Ramon Ramirez laughs when he considers the difference between his circumstances last year and now. On Sept. 23, 2008, Ramirez was languishing in the Kansas City Royals bullpen, pitching for a team 16 games out of first place and long eliminated from the playoffs.

Ramirez knew last winter that likely would be different this year, and he was right. Ramirez, who returned to Kansas City this week for the first time since the offseason, when the Red Sox acquired him in a trade for Coco Crisp, has perhaps been the key to the Boston bullpen, pitching his way toward the first playoffs of his career.

“I love these guys,’’ Ramirez said. “It’s been great to be in Boston. I’m enjoying it. It’s been a good time. This is a great team.’’

The Sox so far have won the trade with the Royals in a landslide. Not only did they acquire Ramirez, the rock of their middle relief all season, but they also made space for Jacoby Ellsbury to blossom as a full-time center fielder. Crisp, meanwhile, was batting .228 with 16 extra-base hits on June 12, when right shoulder surgery ended his season.

Ramirez has pitched 64 innings in 64 games for the Sox. He has won seven games, more than any Sox reliever, while compiling a 2.67 ERA and holding opponents to a .227 average against him.

Ramirez threw 15 scoreless innings in his first 13 games. He’s reclaimed that form recently. He has not allowed an earned run in his past six appearances, mixing a mid-90s fastball with a unique changeup that moves like a slider.

The Sox have been able to mix and match their relievers to keep them ready, and it could pay off for Ramirez in the postseason. When the stakes are highest, Ramirez could be used more selectively - lefthanded batters are slugging .459 against him. While Ramirez never has pitched in the playoffs, he’s proved down the stretch he can handle the enhanced tension of late-season baseball.

“I’ve never been, but I want to be there,’’ Ramirez said. “I want to pitch, and I want to do the best I can. I know a lot of people say there’s more pressure. It’s good, because I want to do the best I can for my team. I don’t feel nervous or nothing like that.’’

Ellsbury learned of the Crisp-Ramirez trade Nov. 19 while flipping through channels in Arizona, where he was living while training at the Athletes Performance Institute. Ellsbury and Crisp were working out together at the time. “We went about our regular business,’’ Ellsbury said.

No one from the Red Sox called Ellsbury about the trade of Crisp. “They didn’t have to,’’ Ellsbury said. He had entered the offseason assuming he would be the every-day center fielder, and the trade only reinforced those thoughts, let him know the team felt the same way.

“I really didn’t think one way or the other,’’ Ellsbury said. “I went into the offseason with the same approach, regardless of the trade or not. I had my plan, and I was sticking to it whatever happened.’’

Ellsbury began the year unable to enhance his on-base percentage and was moved out of the leadoff slot. But as the year progressed and his at-bats piled up, he maintained his aggressive approach while flashing more patience and is back atop the order. Since May 31, the day he dropped in the order, his on-base percentage is .367, 31 points higher than his 2008 total.

“To develop, you have to be on the field,’’ Ellsbury said. “To get in a rhythm, you have to play every day. It’s the only way you can do it.’’

The trade, then, had a dual effect. The departure of Crisp likely made Ellsbury better. And the arrival of Ramirez certainly made the Red Sox better.

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