AP NEWS

Buckley: Hanley Ramirez seizes stage, and Red Sox need him to hold it

July 20, 2017

Whenever it ends, however it ends, Hanley Ramirez will not be remembered as one of the great free agent signings in Red Sox history.

That’s the bad news.

The good news? He’ll never be in the discussion when Sox fans sit around the campfire and tell spooky, late-night stories about the team’s worst free agent signings.

He’s not Carl Crawford. And he’s not Pablo Sandoval, though Ramirez and Sandoval are in some ways joined at the hip: They were both signed as free agents for the 2015 season, and they were both complete and utter and horrible busts out of the gate. The difference is that Sandoval remained a bust right up till the day ownership absorbed some $48 million in salary and sent the wobbly third baseman packing, whereas Hanley is still in there hacking for a team that desperately needs whatever power he’s still able to muster.

He provided plenty of power early yesterday morning, socking a home run into Kenmore Square to lift the tired Red Sox to a 15-inning, 5-4 victory over the equally tired Toronto Blue Jays. As an added attraction, there was this: The guy played all 15 innings at first base.

The plan, back in spring training, was that Ramirez was going to be a frequent flier at first base. The new guy, Mitch Moreland, was going to get the bulk of the time at the position, with Hanley doing the bulk of the DH’ing, but there was supposed to be some rejiggering going on when the Sox faced a lefty. Moreland, a lefty hitter, would sit. Hanley would play first. Somebody else — say, Chris Young — would DH.

It didn’t work out that way during the first half of the season. Instead, we got daily updates about Hanley’s aching shoulders. And we got daily lineup cards featuring Hanley at designated hitter. Whether he intended to or not, it was plainly obvious Ramirez was beginning to walk and talk and smile and mug and hug and do all the other things David Ortiz used to do, except that, well, he’s not David Ortiz.

Sorry, but I never bought into all the sad stories about the shoulders. Ortiz always played in pain and Dustin Pedroia plays in pain still. Nobody’s 100 percent. Everybody has aches and pains and bruises and welts. I don’t doubt Hanley has aching shoulders. Not counting his cup of coffee with the Sox in 2005, this is his 12th season in the big leagues. He’s 33 years old. And the svelte shortstop of yesteryear is today’s lumbering DH. Of course, he’s banged up.

But the Sox need him. They need him to DH and hit home runs, but they also need him to play some first base and hit home runs. Especially now: Moreland, who started at first last night against the Blue Jays, went into the game hitting just .172 since the big toe on his left foot was fractured by a Ben Lively pitch on June 13. (I have this picture in my head of Tommy DeVito blowing up Spider’s foot in “Goodfellas.”) Moreland has gamely dismissed the toe as an issue — “The toe is fine, y’all,” he has told reporters — but he’s slumping.

Pretty much the whole team is slumping. These are not your father’s Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em Red Sox, pulverizing pitch after pitch after pitch into the blackness of night. So when Hanley makes with the walkoff home runs, and when he logs 15 innings at first base, it’s a big deal.

Yes, Hanley clowned around in left field a couple of years ago and didn’t accomplish much. Yes, he was no great shakes the first half of this season. But he did deliver the goods last season — 30 home runs, 111 RBI — and he scorched the ball the second half.

So maybe he scorches the ball during this second half. Maybe he’ll reacquaint himself with the joys of playing first base. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll be elevated from not-so-good signing to pretty good signing.

He didn’t play last night. That’s OK: Again, he played 15 innings the night before. “It was more just on how he was going to respond to five hours at first base,” said Sox manager John Farrell, and, yeah, that’s fair.

But check out the AL East: The Yankees have beefed up their roster and the Rays haven’t gotten the memo that they’re not supposed to be contending. The Sox? They have the pitching. They don’t have the power. Because of that, an actual David Ortiz/Hanley Ramirez comparison can now be made: Just as the Sox of old depended on Big Papi, now they are depending on Hanley.

The stage is Hanley’s now, and he’s enjoying it. Speaking with reporters before last night’s game, he mistakenly said, “Six,” when asked — in light of the 1:09 a.m. finish to the 15-inning marathon — what time he woke up yesterday.

Six?

“Ohhhhhhh, noon,” he said, correcting himself. “I went to bed at 6.”

He went to bed at 6?

“I was into the game, still,” he said.

That’s called being invested. If he stays invested, the Red Sox win the division by nine games.