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Ramon lets up

I'm going to come right out and admit it. I'm a little late to the party when it comes to being judgmental about Ramon Hernandez. There have been dozens of posts here over the past few weeks addressing his failure to block balls behind the plate and block runners in front of it, but I have either withheld judgment or let it pass as more proof that he's a player whose intensity varies widely from game to game.

I'll stand by that appraisal, but that's no excuse for what happened in last night's game at Yankee Stadium. The wild pitch that allowed the decisive run to score bounced off him because he failed to do what any high school catcher is taught to do in that situation. It was a standard block and smother, but he remained too upright, so the ball came off his chest and caromed off to his right instead of back into the ground. I'm no expert on catching, but I feel pretty solid on this since Buck Martinez said essentially the same thing on the MASN postgame show.

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It was one of two wild pitches that shouldn't have gotten by an American Legion catcher, much less a highly paid, high-profile major league veteran. Can't explain why Ramon has forgotten how to field his position, since he used to be considered pretty good at all this, but I don't need to explain it. He needs to suck it up and earn his big paycheck for nine more days.

He's supposed to help the young pitchers, not be a handicap for them. He's supposed to help the young outfielders, too, but recently squandered a fantastic throw to the plate by Lou Montanez because he wasn't willing to risk even passing contact with the baserunner.

Of course, you know how this is going to play out. He'll report to spring training next year looking like the old Ramon, because he knows that Matt Wieters is going to be hot on his trail and he'll be motivated to hold his place in the starting lineup because it's almost contract time again.

And I know what you're thinking, but he's going to be hard to trade with an $8 million salary next year and a $1 million buyout if the O's don't exercise his $8.5 million option for 2010...especially when every scout who has passed this way has seen that he's become a big defensive liability.

Sun file photo/Gene Sweeney Jr.

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