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A more mature Manny10/07/2004 5:00 PM ET
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
BOSTON -- It is a confident and happy Manny Ramirez who leads the Red Sox to Fenway Park this weekend and that can spell trouble for the Angels.
"We've got a lot of confidence, because we are home and we play so great at home that anybody who goes to Fenway, we think we could beat," Ramirez said. "So we are going to go out there with that kind of confidence because we know we are going to have our fans behind us."
And having the fans at Fenway Park on his side has been huge, Ramirez said.
"Oh, man, let me tell you about Fenway," Ramirez said. "I played in Cleveland for seven years, you know, and it's not even close. We've got the best fans in the whole world out there, man. Especially when I am running to left field, I point to the fans and they just love that, they love me a lot there."
Up 2-0 over Anaheim in the American League Division Series, the Red Sox have an opportunity to wrap up the series with a win Friday afternoon in Boston.
Ramirez, who went 1-for-3 with two RBIs in Game 2 on Wednesday and is batting .375 in the series, is all kinds of happy this year and it shows in his demeanor on the field, in the clubhouse and around town. He said the last couple of seasons have led him to the conclusion that he made the right choice when he left the Indians.
"I am so happy that I went to Boston," Ramirez said. "You know why? Because a lot of people thought oh, 'Manny is going to Boston, he is not going to be the same player that he was in Cleveland. It's going to be hard for him over there.'
"But let me tell you something. It just makes me better because I know I've got to go and play hard because we've got such good fans who want to win. And I want to win, also. And that makes you get better out there."
Certainly, the raucous clubhouse atmosphere in Boston plays a big role in Ramirez's contentment as well.
"We've got a lot of guys that really make it easy for me," Ramirez said. "We are always joking around. Like Johnny Damon said, we are a bunch of idiots because we just go out there, we joke around, we pick on each other, and that's how baseball is supposed to be. It's supposed to be fun."
It has been noted several times during this series that a year ago, Ramirez would not have been comfortable talking so much with the media, opening up as he has, joking around even.
Ramirez said his relationship with the media has simply evolved.
"I think sometimes you want people to really get to know you, because sometimes when you don't talk to the press, guys maybe write things that are not true," Ramirez said. "So I want to be open to the press so they can really get to know me and see what kind of guy I am. I decided to open up more because before I was kind of shy, you know, because it happened to me and David Ortiz and Pedro (Martinez). Sometimes we are not comfortable in our English.
"Now, we try to give (the media) five to 10 minutes. That way [the media might say] 'He's not that good, but at least he is trying to talk to us' and get to know him."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona sees Ramirez's emerging personality as a natural progression.
"I think what's happening with Manny -- and I actually think it's very simple -- is that as people grow up and mature, I think he opened himself up to [the media's] side of the game a little bit," Francona said. "I think with the players and people that know him, he has always been Manny and always been very personable, very warm, and he just didn't let other people into his world. So their perspective of him was what they saw.
"This year he decided to be a little bit more open, especially with the media, in allowing [the media] to see into his world. Because you are seeing and hearing what he has to say, all of a sudden it's not just the people on the inside that see what a great kid he is, but everybody else. I don't think he has changed, I think he has just maybe matured a little bit and communicated that to other people besides his teammates."
Ramirez is quite often the first player to arrive at the ballpark and said he really looks forward to just playing the game.
"For me, this is something that I wanted to do since I was a kid, so I always come early to work on the things that I need to do," Ramirez said. "And you always want to get better in things that you need to work on, so that's why all the time I am early at the ballpark."
Not only is Ramirez happier but he also already has been more productive. Ramirez hit .200 (4-for-20) in the ALDS last season, with one home run and three RBIs. And he has hit .188 in 26 ALDS games before this year. So, having him off to a good start in this ALDS is very important.
The Red Sox know they can count on him in the next round, too, if they get that far. Ramirez is hitting .304 in 25 ALCS games in his career, with eight home runs and 13 RBIs.
His home run on Tuesday gave him 17 in his postseason career, which is tied for fifth all-time (with another former Indian, Jim Thome) and just two homers short of tying the record, held by Bernie Williams. Along the way, he will pass legendary Yankees Mickey Mantle (18) and Reggie Jackson (18).
It's all part of another very productive year for Ramirez, which may end with him being chosen the American League's MVP.
"Manny is a perennial MVP candidate," Damon said. "I know there's a lot of tough competition for that this season, but he's the best right-handed hitter in the game."
Ramirez and Ortiz became the first pair of AL teammates since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1931 to both hit .300 with at least 40 homers and 100 RBIs. Ramirez gives much of the credit to his teammate.
"Ortiz has been an MVP candidate, too, and he is having a great season," Ramirez said. "He is one of my best friends on the team and I think he is also the best hitter on the team. He is great, man. He is a guy you could go and talk to when you have some problems, like off the field and on the field. We always talk about a lot of things out there. I am very proud to have Ortiz behind my back."
Certainly, Ortiz's powerful presence has made a difference in how Ramirez has been approached by opposing pitchers and vice versa. The result certainly has been impressive. But Ramirez doesn't get caught up in all the strategies and all the numbers. As far as Ramirez is concerned, it's a simple game.
"I just look for a good pitch that I can drive," Ramirez said. "That's all I do at the plate. I don't want to put any extra pressure on myself. If it happens, it happens."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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