CHICAGO -- Alexei Ramirez and Evan Longoria certainly wouldn't consider themselves friends, or enemies, for that matter.
Aside from meeting up on the field of play, they actually have never had a chance to sit down and talk.
Yet, the rest of Major League Baseball certainly has come to know quite a bit about these talented first-year players.
Ramirez is the sensational second baseman for the American League Central champion White Sox, having started on Opening Day in center field. Ramirez has shown flashes of power, speed and defensive gold during the course of this special season, with the Cuban emerging as the South Siders' most potent offensive weapon since the All-Star break.
Then, there's the Tampa Bay third baseman. The Rays selected Longoria with the third overall pick of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, and he has lived up to every bit of the hype that comes along with such a lofty selection. Longoria just might be the most valuable player on a team producing the franchise's most significant and historic showing.
If nothing else, Longoria and Ramirez find themselves in a two-horse race for the American League Rookie of the Year honor -- with all due respect to Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury. Justice prevailing would mean a split award between two players who have meant so much to their respective playoff teams.
In the land of human voting, though, Longoria's pre-arrival expectations probably will trump Ramirez's amazing emergence. It's a result that doesn't seem to gnaw at Ramirez for the slightest of seconds.
"What I know about [Longoria] is he's a great ballplayer. He's a great player and has had a great year," said Ramirez through translator and White Sox media relations representative Lou Hernandez. "If he wins Rookie of the Year, then congratulations.
"He's done everything to deserve that award. I'm very proud and confident in what I've done for this team. If I'm Rookie of the Year, then that's great, also."
Study the individual performances of Longoria and Ramirez, who are proudly on display during the American League Division Series between the Rays and the White Sox, and it's almost impossible to pick a winner.
Alexei Ramirez vs. Evan Longoria
All stats are for 2008 regular season.
Longoria hit .272 with 27 home runs and 85 RBIs, not to mention a .531 slugging percentage and .341 on-base percentage. He scored 67 runs and threw in seven stolen bases for good measure. His signature moment, aside from the two long balls hit during the opening Tampa Bay victory of the ALDS, came during a three-home run night on Sept. 18 in an 11-8 home loss to Minnesota.
For the Cuban Missile, a nickname bestowed upon Ramirez by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, he produced a .290 average with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs. Ramirez also scored 65 runs, picked up 13 stolen bases and carried himself like a veteran well beyond his one year of big league experience.
It's a personality trait certainly germane to both rookie standouts, who sit atop the next generation of baseball talent.
"You see those two guys walk on the field and you know they're baseball players," said Guillen of Longoria and Ramirez. "I mean, it's kind of like those guys are going to be part of the [Joe] Mauers and the [Carlos] Gomezes and the [Carlos] Quentins. The new era of baseball players coming out, [David] DeJesus, coming out of the American League.
"All those kids, they're going to come and make baseball fun. And those two guys are going to be the key. You look at Longoria making the All-Star team and carrying his ballclub to the playoffs and same way with Ramirez. It's fun to see that competition."
Break down the story behind the statistics for Ramirez, and they become that much more impressive. As of May 7, Ramirez featured a .114 average -- about 50 or 60 points less than what the slender infielder weighs. He had no home runs, two RBIs and what most people thought was a trip to Triple-A Charlotte on the horizon.
Even with these struggles through the cold Midwest weather of April, Ramirez never lost his confidence.
"I do think the cold might have had something to do with it. It did have something to do with it," Ramirez said. "I've never been in cold like that. With the help of our coaches and trainers, I was able to adjust to the weather, but also to the different style of play.
"Another thing is in Cuba, I had certain instances where I didn't necessarily start off hitting well. But I improved going through the season."
That 2008 improvement is enough to put Ramirez into an elite fraternity for individual postseason awards. Ramirez's signature moment probably came on Monday, when he hit the game-winning grand slam in a makeup game against Detroit that the White Sox needed to win to stay alive for the division title. It was his fourth grand slam, setting a single-season rookie record and tying a franchise record.
When asked what he knew about Ramirez, Longoria compared him to the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano because of his build and complete skill package. It's a comparison Ramirez appreciates and has heard before.
"He's got that pop, he runs, he's got a good arm," Longoria said. "And he can play a lot of positions. I think that's what's made him the most valuable for this team this year, his ability to play center field, shortstop and second base, anywhere."
Sounds like another line for Ramirez's Rookie of the Year resume, delivered by his chief competitor. Regardless of the direction the voters go, they really can't make a wrong call.
Fans of the Rays and White Sox, or simply casual observers of this ALDS, can attest to this fact concerning two players who should be leading their respective teams for years to come.
"That's why I think the Rookie of the Year voting is going to be tough," said Guillen, who has Ramirez through 2011, while Longoria was locked up by the Rays through 2013, with options through 2016. "Those two guys in the pennant race, I'm sorry in the playoffs, those two guys compete all year long."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.