Manny launches homer No. 498

Manny launches homer No. 498

MINNEAPOLIS -- Manny Ramirez is one step closer to membership in the 500-homer club.

Ramirez went the opposite way against Minnesota right-hander Livan Hernandez in the first inning in Boston's 7-3 loss on Monday night for No. 498 of his career. Ramirez returned to the starting lineup after spending most of Sunday's game on the bench because of a sore right hamstring.

The Red Sox had already taken a 1-0 lead when Ramirez hit a towering two-run homer over the right-field wall. He had come to the plate in a 1-for-16 slump over a 14-game span.

Until Ramirez reaches the milestone, MLB will employ specially marked baseballs to ensure the historic homer can be authenticated. No. 498 didn't go into the Metrodome seats, so the Red Sox were able to quickly collect the ball and hold it for Ramirez.

It was the first homer for Ramirez since May 6, when he homered in Detroit, and it gave Ramirez 1,630 career runs batted in, moving him ahead of Harold Baines into 26th place on the all-time list.

The question now becomes whether Ramirez will get to No. 500 during a two-game series in Baltimore or head home with a chance to reach the milestone. After playing Tuesday and Wednesday at Camden Yards, the Red Sox will open a seven-game homestand on Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"It's not up to me," Ramirez said. "I'm not driving a car, like I could [choose to] go left or right."

Ramirez has a lot of respect for the man who served up No. 498. After the homer by Ramirez, Hernandez settled in and shut the Red Sox out over the next five innings.

"He pitched great," Ramirez said. "He changes speeds a lot and has good location. When he's on, he's on. You have to give him credit and tip your hat."

Relaxing on a sofa in the Red Sox's clubhouse, Ramirez made it clear he's not feeling any stress while trying to reach the 500 milestone.

"I'm just going out there and having fun," Ramirez said. "I like to go and enjoy the game, no matter what."

Manager Terry Francona saw a difference in Ramirez after the veteran left fielder was held out of the lineup on Sunday.

"He swung the bat a lot more aggressive tonight," Francona said. "He needed a night off last night with the hamstring. Maybe it did him some good, because his bat was quicker tonight. It was good to see."

Robert Falkoff is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.