White Sos shortstop Alexei Ramirez flies around the bases after hitting the game-winning homer yesterday at the Cell
  • AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
  • White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez flies around the bases after hitting the game-winning homer yesterday at the Cell.

Any team in baseball would love to have an eighth-place hitter like the one playing for the White Sox. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez leads the American League in hitting—by 35 points. He’s batting .420. The Sox have played 13 games, and Ramirez has hit safely in all of them. He leads the AL in hits, with 21 already, and in on-base plus slugging percentage (1.143). He’s second in on-base percentage (.463), tied for third in runs batted in (12), and tied for sixth in homers (3).

His first time up yesterday, in the third inning, Ramirez grounded a sinker into left on the first pitch he saw. He was an easy out his next two times up, also on the first pitch. When he stepped to the plate with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Sox trailed the Cleveland Indians, 3-2, and the tying run was on second. One pitch to Ramirez, and the Sox were 4-3 winners. He belted a fast ball into the Sox bullpen in left, for which he received a standing ovation from the several hundred chilled witnesses still at the Cell. The Sox are 7-6, in second place, a half-game behind Detroit.

Ramirez, 32, is starting his seventh season at short for the Sox. The slender Cuban native is usually a lousy cold-weather hitter—in previous Aprils, he’s hit .231.

The Sox have been lucky to have Ramirez and smart to keep him. (Other teams have tried to trade for him.) He has range, soft hands, and a strong arm. A lifetime .279 hitter, he steals 15 to 20 bases most years and hits about as many homers. He plays almost every game. But he’s always been a cut under the elite shortstops; he’s never made the all-star team. It’s very early, of course, but that may change this season.

During spring training last year, his father-in-law, to whom Ramirez was close, was shot to death in the Dominican Republic. Ramirez made no excuses, but he often appeared troubled and distracted last year, and he struggled in the field. He has only one error thus far, and seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself. After he hit his game-winning homer yesterday, he “flew” around the bases, arms spread like an airplane, then leaped and landed amid his teammates on the crowded home plate runway.