PHILADELPHIA -- Love at first sight?
It's not enough that Hanley Ramirez hit two home runs, including a grand slam, in his first game back with the Boston Red Sox Monday afternoon against the Philadelphia Phillies. But to the sound of Dean Martin crooning "That's Amore" between innings at Citizens Bank Park, Ramirez was a willing dance partner for David Ortiz as they waltzed through the dugout. Call it "Dancing With the Stars", Dominican edition.
We have come to expect the unexpected from Red Sox players with the surname of Ramirez. And Hanley has something else in common with Manny, too: the ability to inflict excessive force on a baseball thrown from 60 feet, 6 inches away.
Ramirez could not have made a more emphatic return to the team that first signed him as a 16-year-old in 2000, then dealt him away five years later in a trade that might never have been made if general manager Theo Epstein hadn't donned a monkey suit and gone on hiatus. The deal that sent Ramirez to the Florida Marlins, engineered primarily by the late Bill Lajoie and Craig Shipley [with Larry Lucchino's blessing] while Epstein was in self-imposed exile, wasn't exactly a bust on the Sox side: They acquired two players, pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell, without whom the Sox would not have won the 2007 World Series. Beckett pitched like Bob Gibson that October and Lowell was the Series MVP after batting .400 with seven extra-base hits in a sweep of the Rockies.
But Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who was an Epstein sidekick [and briefly his replacement with co-GM Jed Hoyer] back when the trade was made, said he and others in the baseball ops crew often wondered what it would be like if Ramirez came back. The wishful thinking ended when the Sox signed Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million deal last November. And on Monday, the 2015 version of Ramirez, whose massive physique bears scant resemblance to the 165-pound shortstop who was here the first go-round, began creating new memories for his happy employers.
Ramirez lined out to right in his first at-bat, drew a full-count walk in his second, hit a hanging changeup from Cole Hamels into the seats in left in the fifth, grounded into an inning-ending double play in the seventh, then hit a grand slam off reliever Jake Diekman in the ninth.
The Sox hit five home runs in all, the first Sox team to do so in an opener since April 12, 1965, against the Senators in D.C. Stadium, when the names were Felix Mantilla, Lenny Green (two), Lee Thomas and Tony Conigliaro.
"It's what everybody expected from this team," Ramirez said. "Everybody just hit homers and we scored a lot of runs. But we're just going to try to make it easy for each other."
Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia became the first Sox teammates ever to go deep twice on Opening Day, Pedroia doing so in the first five innings. Ramirez let Pedroia know, he said, that he wouldn't go unchallenged.
"Definitely, I told him," said Ramirez, who noted (correctly, by the way) that when they played together in Portland in 2005, Pedroia was the one who went deep more often (eight home runs for Pedroia, six for Ramirez.)
This was the second time Ramirez has hit a grand slam on Opening Day -- he did it for the Marlins in Miami against the Nationals in 2009, but he didn't hit that one with a broken bat, like he did Monday off Phillies reliever Jake Diekman. According to home run guru David Vincent, Ramirez is only the second player ever to do so, joining Sixto Lezcano, who hit his grand slams in 1978 and 1980 for the Milwaukee Brewers.
"I was surprised when I hit the ball," Ramirez said. "I heard a sound like I broke my bat."
It's becoming a habit around here. Mike Napoli shattered a bat last week in Fort Myers and hit one on top of the faux Monster. Ramirez only cracked his. But with five RBIs on the afternoon, which matched his career high (he's done it six times previously), and a putout on the only ball hit his way at his new position, left field, Ramirez made it a day for dancing.