09/02/2003 8:30 PM ET
Little sits Manny in series opener
Ramirez not suspended, but starts series on bench
CHICAGO -- Seemingly oblivious to the controversy swirling around him at U.S. Cellular Field, Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez ran in front of the television and cheered with joy as Sammy Sosa smacked a walk-off homer to beat the Cardinals in the bottom of the 15th inning at Wrigley Field.
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Things were not quite so joyous in the visitors' dugout, where manager Grady Little announced to the media that Ramirez was not in his starting lineup Tuesday night against the White Sox.
While Ramirez had missed the last four games because of a throat infection, Little decided to decline the slugger's offer to make his return Tuesday night as the DH.
This, despite the fact Ramirez is 5-for-11 in his career against former teammate Bartolo Colon, who started the game for the White Sox.
Little, looking stern and lacking his usual easygoing manner, didn't call the move a "benching." But perhaps more telling was that Little also made no attempt to refute that he was, in essence, sending Ramirez a message by not starting him.
"He's available to DH today, but my decision to wait is ... I like the way our club has responded the last few days and we're trying to win the game," Little said. "I'm putting the team out there that I think gives us the best chance to win tonight."
Ramirez -- hitting .317 with 31 homers and 90 RBIs -- chose not to speak with the media.
Little's decision to sit his best run producer in the series opener against a first-place team was met with approval by his immediate boss, general manager Theo Epstein.
"As a front office, we fully support Grady's decision not to put Manny in the
starting lineup tonight," Epstein said in a statement. "Grady's going with a lineup that gives us the best chance to win as a team and tonight that does not include Manny, despite his availability to DH.
"Manny's a big part of this ballclub and we all look forward to getting him
back on the field very soon and watching him help this team win some
important ballgames. Contrary to some reports, Manny has not been suspended.
He's not in the lineup tonight and we all support Grady's decision."
One Boston television station reported earlier in the day on Tuesday that the club suspended Ramirez. However, the station retracted that report later in the day.
Ramirez has been at the center of controversy the last few days.
Despite being too ill to report to work throughout the team's weekend series at Fenway Park against the Yankees, Ramirez met up with Yankees infielder Enrique Wilson at a Boston hotel Saturday night.
After Red Sox team physician Bill Morgan told MLB.com Saturday that he would "bet on" Ramirez being physically fit to play Sunday afternoon, the All-Star cleanup man didn't come to the ballpark for his scheduled checkup with Morgan.
And it was only shortly before gametime that Little heard from a third party that Ramirez had decided he was still too sick to play the finale against New York.
Then on Monday afternoon, when Ramirez re-joined the team for the trip to Philadelphia, he informed Little that he was too weak to start the game.
When the Sox trailed 9-7 in the ninth inning, Little was hoping Ramirez would be well enough to pinch-hit. Ramirez declined.
In spite of the absence of their most potent hitter, the Sox rallied back for a 13-9 win.
At the same time Ramirez missed four games with pharyngitis, center fielder Johnny Damon won a large measure of respect for the way he rushed back into the lineup Monday following a hard collision with teammate Gabe Kapler and the Green Monster on Saturday.
Was Little disappointed Ramirez didn't express a desire to get back in the lineup before Tuesday?
"It's always disappointing when you don't have the availability of one of your regular players," Little said. "The idea I have now is we're trying to win every game we can. I'm going to put the lineup on the field that I feel gives us the best chance to win."
Little obviously hasn't been thrilled by Ramirez's actions over the last few days, as he made no attempt to say anything complimentary about a man he has generally shared a good relationship with, both as Red Sox manager the last two seasons and when he was the bench coach in Cleveland in 2000.
After making perhaps his most pointed decision in his two years as the Boston manager, Little wouldn't be specific about which factor led to Ramirez starting the Chicago series on the bench.
"Our ballclub that I have in that clubhouse in there, they depend on Grady Little every day to put a lineup on the field that gives us the best chance to win and that's what I'm doing tonight," Little said. "There were a lot of factors in my decision. All of them lead to the idea of putting the team on the field we can win the game with. That's all I've got to say."
Little left open the possibility Ramirez could pinch-hit in the late innings Tuesday. He would not say if Ramirez will be back in the lineup Wednesday.
"Tomorrow's another game," Little said. "I'm going to put the team on the field that I feel we have the best chance to win with."
The players backed Little's decision.
"He's the manager. He has a reason," said Sox DH David Ortiz, Ramirez's closest friend on the team. "That's some crazy stuff, but he's the man. He's got to make the decisions, that's why he's the manager."
Without Ramirez in the lineup, the Sox still have had plenty of offense with Ortiz taking over at cleanup and Kapler playing left field.
"We're happy with the team we're putting out there," Damon said. "We cause a lot of havoc with Gabe in the lineup. It gives us another guy who can steal and score from first on a double. We've been scoring a lot of runs without [Ramirez] of late. Yeah, he's a tremendous hitter, but we're better defensively without him."
But Ortiz knows that for the Red Sox to realize their ultimate goal this season, Ramirez is going to have to play a pivotal role.
"They signed him for eight years for a reason," Ortiz said. "He's a talented player. Look at Manny's numbers. The guy has some stupid numbers."
Ortiz is eager to hand the cleanup hole back to Ramirez.
"He's my boy. I talk to him. If he's not ready, he's not ready. It doesn't matter what I say or anyone else says. He knows that we need him. He knows he needs to be in this lineup right here," Ortiz said. "I was messing around with him earlier. 'Hey man, I'm not a cleanup hitter, get your [butt] in the lineup. I'm supposed to hit behind you.' He said, 'You're doing OK. I'll be back.' "
But Little will be the ultimate judge of exactly when Ramirez will be back.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.