MILWAUKEE — Bob Brenly once went on a Chicago radio station and called out Aramis Ramirez for being a “numbers gatherer,” someone who’d get his stats in garbage time after the Cubs had fallen out of contention.
Ramirez never really cared what the TV analysts had to say or what the beat guys wrote. The body language didn’t always look great, but that temperament helped him perform inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl.
No one can accuse Ramirez of simply padding his stats now, becoming a big reason why the Milwaukee Brewers have the best record in baseball. He woke up Sunday tied for fifth in the National League with 18 RBI, hitting .522 (12-for-23) with runners in scoring position, delivering in the clutch situations the Cubs talk about now.
While Cubs manager Rick Renteria compares the big leagues to a classroom setting, Ramirez is enjoying the hall pass, the same way ex-Cub Matt Garza now expects to win in Milwaukee instead of just hoping. It’s the energy Alfonso Soriano felt after getting traded to the New York Yankees last summer.
“It’s huge,” Ramirez said. “We’ve been around for awhile and the next thing for us is winning. We don’t want to be in a development situation, a rebuilding process. We’ve been through that already. The last thing you want to do is be rebuilding.
“I’m 35. I don’t have 10 years left. I have to try to win now, and that’s the same thing for Garza and Sori.”
Ramirez witnessed the culture changes at Clark and Addison, giving the 2003 team a lift around the trade deadline before the huge letdown, five outs away from the World Series. That raised the expectations for a big-market franchise. The third baseman would help the Cubs win back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008.
A few weeks after Brenly’s comments on WMVP-AM 1000 in October 2011, Ramirez filed for free agency and Theo Epstein’s front office wanted the draft pick as compensation. With the 43rd overall selection, the Cubs grabbed Pierce Johnson, who’s in the rotation at Double-A Tennessee and ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s sixth-best prospect.
The Cubs still don’t have a true cleanup hitter, using Nate Schierholtz, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Justin Ruggiano in that spot while hitting .209 as a team with runners in scoring position. Ramirez is in the final year of a $36 million contract and doesn’t know how much he has left in the tank.
“I take it year-by-year from now on,” Ramirez said. “I don’t really look too far ahead. I’m working hard, trying to stay in shape. It doesn’t get any easier when you’re 35. I’m just trying to be out there every single day.”
The Brewers will need Ramirez to stay on the field with Ryan Braun and Jean Segura sidelined. Braun is dealing with a rib-cage injury and accidentally/carelessly hit Segura in the face with his bat while warming up on Saturday night at the top of the Miller Park dugout.
This is a small-market team that lost 88 games last season and will eventually come back down to earth. But Milwaukee should be a real factor in the National League Central.
“They minimize mistakes,” Renteria said. “They take advantage of other mistakes from opponents. If you overthrow a ball, they take the extra base. They’re constantly looking at taking the extra base. They’re constantly looking to put themselves in a hitting position that allows them the opportunity to put the ball in play when they need to, drive the ball. Fundamentally, they’re doing a lot of good things.”
The Brewers play with an edge, Carlos Gomez causing havoc at the top of the lineup, Jonathan Lucroy running things behind the plate and Francisco Rodriguez shutting the door in the ninth inning (11-for-11 in save opportunities).
The Brewers don’t need Ramirez to show emotion or become the face of the franchise. They just need him to put up numbers.
“We got a good team,” Ramirez said. “We got good pitching. That’s why we’re winning. We can be better offensively, but we have real good pitching. And that’s why we are where we are right now.”