Apparently the greatest tragedy of the White Sox playoff drought has been depriving Alexei Ramirez of a bigger stage. As a reserve for Derek Jeter, I was wondering what opportunity he would have to flash his skills in just a few innings barring a grounder into the 5.5 hole, and that concern only doubled when Ramirez was tasked with facing Friend of Jordan Danks, Death to Right-Handers specialist Pat Neshek his first time up.
Instead, Neshek look overwhelmed and couldn't find any command, and missed the strike zone by a foot three times in a row. Disappointingly, Ramirez didn't crank out his "I'm barely going to look at this pitch" 3-0 stance on the national stage, but turned a 3-2 fastball on his hip into left field and was on his merry way.
All-Star reserves can often be caught pressing. They rarely get more than an inning, or at-bat or two to prove themselves. Even Chris Sale, pitching in his third-straight All-Star Game, an honor he's earned every year he's been a starter, stepped into his single inning of work turned up to 11, firing 97 mph heat without his typically command, which resulted in him getting knocked around and coughing up the AL's lead for a bit before settling in and scissoring Carlos Gomez in half to end the inning.
Jose Abreu cut on the first and only pitch he saw on the night and popped it up fifty miles high to medium-left. It's impossible to tell if he was anxious because it was a good pitch to cut on and he obviously doesn't hit a home run every time.
But Alexei showed the ultimate proof of All-Star comfort and grace: he goofed off like the class clown. After being made to be the catalyst for the second of two high emotion moments for Derek Jeter, Ramirez briefly nudged the game back toward the giddy display of awe-inspiring tools that a casual fan might actually have fun watching. When he whiffed on an attempted tag of Troy Tulowitzki as his NL counterpart pulled an Alexei-like slide, Ramirez cackled and tossed the ball to himself.
After he reached on his fifth inning single, Ramirez raced from first on Mike Trout's double to left, and when Carlos Gomez cowed his hopes of scoring with a bullet to home plate, Ramirez defiantly waved his finger at him in sarcastic acknowledgement of what Gomez had just done, and brought it back again a few plays later when Devin Mesoraco nearly gunned him out at third after gathering a wild pitch in a hurry.
The finger wag as a regular feature of Ramirez's braggadocio would likely get tiresome quickly, but as a first-time All-Star knocking aside notions that he's overwhelmed while surrounded with all-world competition, it was hysterical.
Ramirez eventually scored on a sacrifice fly. He came to bat again and reached base when Daniel Murphy's desperate barehand flip went over Freddie Freeman's head. Now an expert thief, Ramirez promptly stole second, and when an errant throw forced Starlin Castro to dive over his head and kick off his helmet, Ramirez cackled again.
This is hardly an unknown demeanor for Ramirez to adapt, but it's dispersed over the standard 160+ games he appears in, and if he was like this all the time, he'd be more Cheshire cat than man. While Ramirez collects decent recognition for his longevity, defense, his recently acquired base-thieving skill, and raves when he's on one of his spurts of offensive dominance, the Sox continuing mediocrity has kept him out of a lot of big, emotional and exciting games, and almost certainly already cost him an All-Star appearance or two.
It's not set in stone, and he's certainly got the athleticism to beat the odds longer than others, but Alexei Ramirez's prime could be at an end. If this was his last All-Star Game, it both wouldn't be a surprise--since he's posted two other seasons as good as this one and been selected one of three times--and it wouldn't be a disappointing progression. He'll turn 33 in September, and separates himself from the pack with contact-hitting, neverending fielding range and speed on the bases. It can't last forever, and even if it goes for longer it might not be in Chicago.
Amid these thoughts of the end of Ramirez's reign as White Sox shortstop, his giddy introduction to the All-Star stage to make us wonder what could have been if he had Juan Uribe levels of attention his whole career.
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