Matt Barnes has been on the cusp of being a blazing option out of the bullpen for nearly a year and a half now. He can hit the upper 90s on the radar gun and on pure talent, he could be a starter or a shut-down closer.
He’s been stuck in between, though. And on the most ridiculous night in what has already been a rollercoaster season, he was summoned to the mound in the sixth to clean up Tommy Layne’s mess in an especially messy game. Drew Pomeranz cruised through three innings against the San Francisco Giants and was given an 8-0 lead before falling apart in the fourth inning. Soon enough it was 8-5, and three pitchers and two innings later, it was 8-7 and up to Barnes to get the Red Sox out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam.
Ultimately, he was brilliant, pitching three full innings, striking out two and walking none on his way to helping Boston to a 11-7 victory. And his first bit of brilliance was triggered by Hanley Ramirez starting a double play that wound up being just one of maybe five or six great moments for him on this night.
On any other night, Barnes going three innings to bail out the bullpen and shutting down the best team in baseball would be the story of the game. But it’s hard to ignore Ramirez whizzing around with the glove, hitting three home runs and putting the team on his back in a way we haven’t before seen.
★ ★ ★
Last night’s Red Sox game was designed to be background noise for whatever else was going on — in this case, finishing up another story, cleaning the kitchen, reorganizing my desk. I came in at the top of the third inning, with the Sox already ahead 3-0 in their dandy 1975 throwback jerseys. Pomeranz breezed through the Giants lineup, surrendering just a single to Angel Pagan in the process. In the bottom half, the Sox’ bats went back to work. Ramirez went deep with Xander Bogaerts on base, landing a baseball at the base of the flag pole in the wedge between center field and the Green Monster. From there, doubles by Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Brock Holt, with a Sandy Leon triple in between, gave the Sox an 8-0 lead and the feeling that this would just be one of those relaxing blowouts perfectly catered for me to pay half-attention.
That went away when Pomeranz imploded. A walk and a single set up Mac Williamson’s home run. Another single set the stage for Trevor Brown’s homer. Suddenly it’s 8-5, Pomeranz doesn’t have an out and Robbie Ross is in the game to stop the bleeding, aided by an incredible Dustin Pedroia grab of Angel Pagan’s line drive up the middle, which likely saved a run.
The Giants pick up two more runs in the fifth to cut things to 8-7, and when Layne loads the bases in the sixth inning with no outs, it’s time for Barnes to do his thing. And it’s immediately helped by a perfect pivot from Ramirez at first.
For all the melodramatic predictions of Ramirez’s sure-to-be-awful defense this season, he’s becoming a nifty little first basemen. He’s not in Gold Glove territory and his numbers are still below average for the season, but he makes all the picks he needs to make, his footwork is getting better and he’s demonstrably better now than he was in April. Gregor Blanco gets the call to pinch-hit for Williamson, and he hits a chopper to Ramirez at first. Ramirez grabs it, spins, steps on first base and fires in a strike to Leon at home, who pivots back to his blind side and gets the tag down on a sliding Brandon Belt milliseconds before his foot touches home plate. It was a play that both Ramirez and Leon had to execute perfectly to get the double play and prevent a tie game, and they both delivered.
When Barnes got Conor Gillaspie to pop out to Ramirez in foul ground in the next at-bat, Ramirez screamed after the ball came into his glove. And that just set up his most dramatic moment.
After sending home runs to right and center fields, Ramirez took a pitch from Albert Suarez in the fourth inning off the bicep. Whether it was a purpose pitch or the occasional result of pitching inside, Hanley seemed to take it personally and seemed to say, “I’ll get you back,” on his way to first.
He got his chance in the sixth. David Ortiz had singled and Suarez was still on the mound when Ramirez seemed to jump out of his shoes swinging at the first pitch, sending the ball over the Monster on a line and was subsequently greeted with an Ortiz bear hug in the dugout.
★ ★ ★
Sandy Leon tacked on another home run in the seventh, and on another day, we’d be talking about Leon and his ridiculous breakout since being called up after Ryan Hanigan went on the disabled list. After hitting .187 with one home run in 75 games sprinkled across four seasons with the Nationals and Red Sox, Leon has been a near monster at the plate, with three home runs and a 1.198 OPS over 23 games. Add in his standout defense behind the plate and he forced the Sox to send Christian Vazquez down in his favor when Hanigan returned.
Leon has been a boon to the team looking for consistent help at catcher, even if his .435 average is obviously unsustainable for the rest of the year. On the right night, Leon hitting a triple and a homer on the same night is worthy of headlines.
Instead, he’s pushed to the background, along with Barnes and all the mundane tasks I was supposed to focus on last night. And it’s all thanks to Hanley Ramirez, who looks more and more at home in his new city and new position every day. For one night, he refused to be pushed to the side.