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Man-ny on a mission10/12/2004 1:24 AM ET
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- The Red Sox entered hostile territory on Monday, at least most of them did. Manny Ramirez sat in his chair in the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, looking about as comfortable as a man holding court from his living room couch.
The Red Sox are the enemies in these parts, but Ramirez -- one of the game's most devastating hitters -- doesn't take any offense to it as this American League Championship Series is nearing its Tuesday night launch.
These are his stomping grounds. During his youth in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood known as Washington Heights, Ramirez could seemingly scorch a baseball the couple of miles that separated his school from Yankee Stadium, the hallowed home of the Yankees.
The perennial All-Star left fielder wants very badly to conquer those fabled pinstripes as a member of the Red Sox.
"This is what you play for, man, coming back home. You live for this, man," said Ramirez. "They won last year. It's a new matchup. Anything could happen. This is what everybody's waiting for. It's going to be an unbelievable series."
It was nearly four years ago that Ramirez held court in a press conference at Fenway Park as the newest member of the Red Sox. He lit up the camera that December day, talking of how sweet it would feel to be a member of the Boston team that finally reversed its frustrating history against the Yankees.
Ramirez nearly lived that dream a year ago in Game 7, but a legendary comeback by the Yankees turned it into a nightmare New Englanders have experienced too many times before.
In other words, he has no Joe Namath-like guarantees entering the latest epic.
"I don't know, man. We haven't beaten them at all, so we have to wait and see. They're still the champs," said Ramirez. "They still have  World Series. We're going to have to give a lot of respect for those guys. That's what we need to do, you know."
Respect aside, he looks around his locker room this year at Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke and others, and feels more confident that this could indeed be "the year." Maybe Ramirez knew something back in Spring Training when he gleefully pronounced just about every morning that "this is the year."
"I think so," Ramirez said. "We have another starter that we didn't have last year. He won 20-plus games. And now we have a closer that we didn't have last year."
They also have Ramirez having his best season since his Cleveland days. And he showed no signs of slowing down in the Division Series against the Angels, hitting .385 with a home run and a team-leading seven RBIs in Boston's three-game sweep. Of course, that production isn't all that high on Ramirez's radar.
"I'm just having fun," Ramirez said. "I don't go out there thinking about how I have to change this [or that], especially this late in the season. Whatever happens out there happens and I just go and move on."
You'd never know Ramirez had such a big burden on him as Boston's No. 3 hitter. Per usual, he was supremely calm on the eve of a series that will be packed with the type of intensity he is so adept at tuning out.
"The guy, he doesn't have enough brain to be bothered by too many different things," quipped Red Sox cleanup man David Ortiz, Ramirez's good friend and slugging partner. "He stays at the same level. That's what makes him so good as a player, staying at the same level all the time."
Speaking of levels, since coming to Boston two years ago, Ortiz has gone from a run-of-the-mill platoon player to one of the elite sluggers in the game. He doesn't dispute that Ramirez's soothing presence probably has something to do with that.
"Yeah, he helps everybody out here," said Ortiz. "Everybody is helped by it; I guess that's one good thing about being one of Manny's teammates."
Ramirez has a better idea than any of his teammates about what these October clashes with the Yankees are like. During his days in Cleveland, the Indians and Yankees met up in the 1997 Division Series and the 1998 American League Championship Series. His Indians came out on top in '97.
But with the Red Sox, these trips to the Bronx have taken on an added meaning.
"This is what you think about, this is one of your dreams, Yankees and Red Sox," said Ramirez. "If we played Minnesota or anybody, it wouldn't be no fun. This is a new soap opera, part two. We'll see what's going to happen."
No matter what happens, Ramirez is in the most familiar surroundings.
"I'm in my place doing my thing," Ramirez said.
If he does it well enough, the Red Sox could be going to the World Series.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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