Ramirez homers in big league debut
Prospect's first hit gives Tigers go-ahead run in victory
DETROIT -- If Wednesday is the only game Wilkin Ramirez plays in a Tigers uniform before heading back to Triple-A Toledo, he made the most of it.
He put one ball in play all night, and he sent it an estimated 433 feet into the shrubs in left-center field. With that, he sent the Tigers ahead for good in their 5-3 win over the Rangers.
He also lived up to his billing as an impact prospect.
"We knew all along that he's a very raw, talented kid," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's going to swing and miss a lot. But if he happens to center one, you see what can happen to it."
And when he hits one in a big situation, he's going to respond with raw emotion.
"It's awesome," Ramirez said afterwards. "Best feeling ever, man."
Ramirez is the first Tigers player to homer in his Major League debut since Reggie Sanders on Sept. 1, 1974 against Oakland at Tiger Stadium. Sanders did it in his first at-bat. So did Tigers third-base coach Gene Lamont, the last Tigers player to do it before Sanders.
Ramirez, called up from Triple-A Toledo Tuesday after Magglio Ordonez went on the family medical emergency list, not only cracked the starting lineup, but batted third ahead of Miguel Cabrera. Rangers starter Matt Harrison put away the 23-year-old on strikeouts in each of his first two at-bats.
They were negative results, but one made a positive impression. In his first at-bat, he fouled off two Harrison fastballs with a 1-2 count and took two others to work the count full before he swung and missed through a 96-mph heater on the eighth pitch of the at-bat.
"I thought he really battled," Leyland said. "He got a changeup mixed in there that fooled him a little bit, then he battled and fouled some pitches off. He struck out, but I thought he had a heck of an at-bat."
Still, as Ramirez said later, he wasn't going to let anybody strike him out looking. His second at-bat lasted half as long thanks to a difficult change of speeds from Harrison. Thus, Ramirez hadn't yet put a ball in play in the big leagues when he led off the bottom of the sixth inning.
"I didn't know if he'd put a ball in play all night, to be honest with you," Leyland said.
Yet when he worked the count full against Harrison, he was ready when the left-hander tried to overpower him with a 95-mph fastball.
"He threw me a fastball down the middle, and I put a good swing in," Ramirez said. "The ball was gone."
As soon as he hit it, there was little doubt where it was headed, even to the deepest part of the park, to the center-field side of the flagpole. And so, as he made his way around first base, he had plenty of time to think about what it meant.
"I've been dreaming about this," Ramirez said. "My third at-bat, my first hit in the big leagues was a home run. That's a big home run."
That trip around the bases was a quick one. He actually seemed to pick up speed as he rounded second. And when he saw his wife and son, Julia and Derek, he blew them a kiss before he headed into the dugout.
He might earn another start in Thursday's series finale if Leyland decides to load his lineup with right-handed hitters against Kevin Millwood, but if he doesn't, he still made his impact.
"He showed what we talked about, power and speed," Leyland said. "Tonight, he showed his power."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.