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Hanley Ramirez taking over for David Ortiz as chief Yankees slayer

BOSTON -- In an attempt to be as comfortable as possible on a recent overnight flight from San Diego to Toronto, Boston Red Sox players decided to wear their favorite jerseys of any athlete from any sport. As you might guess, Stephen Curry's gold No. 30 and Tom Brady's blue No. 12 were among the most popular choices.

Then there was Hanley Ramirez, who donned David Ortiz's gray No. 34 Red Sox jersey, presumably after it had been through the wash.

Consider it a sign of respect from a 32-year-old veteran who still regards Ortiz as his "older brother." But if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, Ramirez waited until the past four games to pay tribute to his role model by tormenting the very team that Big Papi has tortured for all these years.

When the New York Yankees arrived at Fenway Park on Thursday, they were riding an improbable wave that put them four games behind the division-leading Red Sox and two off the pace for the American League's second wild-card berth. By the time they trudged out of town late Sunday night after being swept in a four-game series, they were eight games back in the division, four in the wild-card race.

And while the Yankees' playoff flame still flickers -- "You have to believe; it's who we are," manager Joe Girardi said before the game -- Ramirez all but extinguished it by going 9-for-16 with four home runs and nine RBIs in the series. His three-run shot in the ninth inning Thursday night set the tone for the weekend, and in the series finale, with Ortiz out of the lineup in his last career Sunday Night Baseball game, Ramirez went deep twice to bring the Red Sox back from a four-run deficit in a 5-4 victory.

"On a day when you give David a blow, you put Hanley in the middle, you don't seem to skip a beat," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "This series, as much as any four-game stretch throughout the course of the year, [Ramirez's hits] have been timely. The timing in which he's left the ballpark have been huge for us."

Ortiz, of course, made his name by slaying the Yankees. From his walkoff homer in the 12th inning of Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series to his 14th-inning single one night later, Big Papi has loomed large in the ancient rivalry. With three games left against the Yankees in New York, he has 53 home runs against them, tied with Hank Greenberg for the fourth most all-time.

Ramirez hasn't had nearly as many opportunities to face the Yankees. Until last year, he had spent his entire career in the National League with the Marlins and Dodgers. And like everything else about his dismal first season with the Red Sox, he went only 11-for-47 (.234) with two homers and a .643 OPS against the Yankees in 2015.

But the Yankees now caught Ramirez at the wrong time. He has been surging for the past three weeks, with 32 hits in his last 82 at-bats (.390) and 12 homers in his last 21 games. Along with leadoff man Dustin Pedroia, Ramirez has all but carried Boston's offense in September.

With the Red Sox set to travel to Baltimore after Sunday night's game and scheduled to face four right-handed pitchers in the series, Farrell decided to give Ortiz a breather. Into the cleanup spot stepped Ramirez, who took on the responsibility of being the power hitter the Yankees had to worry about most.

"To not have that big bat in the lineup, it puts a little bit of pressure on us," Ramirez said. "David, when he's not in the lineup, it's not the same lineup. But at the same time, we go out there to know what we've got to do to get that 'W.'"

The Yankees staked starter CC Sabathia to a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning, and it might have stayed that way if only the lefty had made an accurate throw to first base to double up Xander Bogaerts after snaring Mookie Betts' line drive. Instead, Sabathia threw the ball wide of first baseman Billy Butler, bringing Ramirez to the plate.

"I was just listening from the dugout -- 'Make him pay, make him pay, make him pay,'" Ramirez said. "Like I say, I've got to give a lot of credit to those guys on the bench. They're pushing every day hard to keep us in the game."

And Ramirez made Sabathia pay by crushing a 3-1 slider off the base of a light tower atop the Green Monster to cut the margin to 4-3.

The Red Sox had tied the score by the time Ramirez stepped to the plate in the seventh inning against reliever Tyler Clippard. He thought he might have had an extra-base hit down the left-field line, but the ball was ruled foul.

Three pitches later, Ramirez left no doubt, crushing a changeup over everything in left field.

With that -- and a pair of run-saving diving catches by Betts in right field -- the Red Sox swept a four-game series from the Yankees for the first time since June 4-7, 1990, 13 years before Ortiz made his first foray into the rivalry.

"Good series, good series," Ramirez said. "After the first game, everybody just was motivated and came back the second day with a lot of energy. That's what we need. Everything's coming together. When we need a big play, it's come. When we need a big rally, we've been doing it. Everything's coming together at the right time."

Including Ramirez's impression of Ortiz.