ATLANTA — The text messages between former teammates have pinged back and forth in recent weeks, complete with the requisite trash talk.
AJ Ramos has visions of striking out Giancarlo Stanton in a crucial spot. The Marlins slugger, in turn, has threatened to make Ramos another victim in his long season of terrorizing pitchers with mammoth home runs. Stanton leads the major leagues with 54 homers.
“Hopefully I get to face him,” Ramos said, referring to the Mets’ three-game series that begins Monday in Miami. “We have been kind of jabbing back and forth at each other, what we are going to do if he hits a home run or I strike him out. I am sure it will be a good battle.
“But I think what he is doing is awesome and I am not surprised. I knew that if he stayed healthy all year he could put up numbers like this and maybe better, so I am not surprised at all.”
The visit to Marlins Park will be Ramos’ first since the July 28 trade that sent him to the Mets for minor league relievers Merandy Gonzalez and Ricardo Cespedes.
Though the Mets faced the Marlins at Citi Field last month, Ramos did not appear in the three-game series. The righty reliever gave up two earned to close out Saturday’s 7-3 win over the Braves leaving him with a 3.72 ERA in 17 appearances for the Mets and is considered a building block — along with Jeurys Familia and Jerry Blevins — for next season’s bullpen.
Ramos, who spent the first 5 ½ seasons of his major league career with the Marlins, never has played a truly meaningful September game. But as the Mets play out the final three weeks in a lost season, he is taking the approach that every game is must-win. His rationale is he wants to create muscle memory for next September, when the Mets could potentially be battling for a postseason berth.
“In my career so far I haven’t been on a team where we are going to make the playoffs, so I have kind of got that mindset to finish the season strong,” Ramos said. “I think that helps whenever you are playing for something at the end of the season because you know how to finish the season strong, so now it’s extra incentive.”
Many of Ramos’ thoughts as he prepares for a return to Miami are on the city, which is recovering from Hurricane Irma. Ramos rents a home in the area that sustained water damage and said he will be unable to stay there during the upcoming series.
In eight days it will mark one year since Jose Fernandez and two of his friends were killed when the boat Fernandez was driving crashed into a Miami Beach jetty. Fernandez had cocaine in his system and his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit.
Ramos said the ensuing days, which included the Mets’ visit to Marlins Park for the first game following Fernandez’s death, were some of the toughest in his life.
“I still watch him pitch on YouTube,” Ramos said. “I love the way he competed, I loved how good his energy was and it inspires me to pitch with a little more emotion because the way he played the game, all the emotions were there.
“He was very happy, very mad, sad, he poured everything in that game. I admire that about him and he was just a great person. He was always kind to people, he was a little loud at times, but I call him Neen — short for [El] Nino.
“I don’t think you could be on the team and not be close to Jose. He was one of those guys who was everybody’s best friend.”
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