Manny stays put, clears air, delivers win
Red Sox slugger breaks his silence in dramatic fashion
BOSTON -- All week, the talk in Boston was about Manny Ramirez. Early Sunday afternoon, roughly four hours before the trading deadline would pass and he was all but certain to remain with the Red Sox, Ramirez did the talking himself.
And, later in the day, Ramirez did what the packed house at Fenway wanted so badly. He hit.
Pinch-hitting for rookie Adam Stern in the bottom of the eighth inning of a tie game, Ramirez ripped an RBI single up the middle, giving Boston what stood up as the game-winner in a 4-3 win over the Twins.
When you factor in everything, this was one of the more memorable days at Fenway Park in a while.
"These are best fans in the world, man," said Ramirez in an on-field, postgame interview with NESN. "They want to win. I want to win, too. I'm back."
Did he ever leave? At times, it felt like it. But in the end, there was no scenario in which the Red Sox were going to improve themselves for the remainder of 2005 without Ramirez's big bat in the middle of the order.
Ramirez had been given Saturday and Sunday off to clear his head after a whirlwind week in which he was rumored to be traded, and also had a conflict with manager Terry Francona. But the situation appeared to have resolved itself by Sunday morning, and Francona called on Ramirez with the game on the line and the crowd erupted as he abounded from the dugout.
It was storybook stuff, not just for fans, but for anyone sitting in the Boston dugout.
"I think he saw the best of Boston in about a 10-minute span," said Francona. "I think anybody would want to be here. That's hard not to get chills when that stuff is happening. That's one of the most exciting atmospheres you'll ever see. That's about as electric as you'll see it."
"As soon as he took about two steps toward the dugout steps, I got goose bumps," said Sox first baseman Kevin Millar. "They started chanting his name. You knew it was going to be electric. That stadium turned upside down. It was like a playoff atmosphere. And once again, there goes Manny. Base hit up the middle. Helmet off [acknowledging the crowd]. I've never seen anything like that in my life."
At the same time, Ramirez seemed to realize again that he loves playing in Boston, those same fans who booed him Friday night seemed to realize they had no interest in seeing him leave.
Ramirez was asked if the trade rumors of the last couple of days had affected him.
"It was," he said. "But than I said, 'Man, just let me play some baseball. I'm just happy to be here.' This is the place for me."
This, coming just a few days after a story in Sports Illustrated, which was later confirmed by Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino, stated that Ramirez had recently asked to be traded out of Boston because he was disgruntled by his lack of privacy.
That was hard to believe on Sunday, as Ramirez, thrust into the spotlight, opened up to everyone -- players, media members and fans.
Before the game, the story was Ramirez breaking a more than two-month silence with the media and announcing that he was fine with finishing the season in Boston and playing for Francona.
Amid the backdrop of Francona's cramped office, which was packed with reporters, the star slugger of the Red Sox made his first public comments since May 15, the day he belted his 400th home run in Seattle.
Ramirez, flanked by Millar, who was serving as a mock moderator, said that he was at peace with playing the remainder of the 2005 season for the Red Sox.
"I want to stay here for 2005. I want to help this team win another World Series," said Ramirez, whose name had surfaced in numerous trade rumors involving the Mets the last few days.
Despite reports that Ramirez and Francona have had a serious falling out, the left fielder said that he was fine with his manager.
Francona was sitting at his desk while Ramirez, in noticeably good spirits, held court.
"I never said that [I have a problem with Francona]," said Ramirez. "My situation with Tito is perfect, man. I never had no problem with no manager."
Ramirez then explained the other big controversy of the week, in which he chose to take a scheduled day off this past Wednesday against the Devil Rays when the team was short-handed with Trot Nixon going on the disabled list before the game.
Said Ramirez: "The things that happened, I was supposed to get Sunday off in Chicago, and I told Tito, 'No, Tito, I'm going to play on Sunday.' I told him, 'Why don't you give me Wednesday off so I could get Thursday [an off-day for the Red Sox] off, [also].' OK, so when Trot got hurt, one of the coaches came up to me and told me, 'You still want Wednesday off?' I told him, 'Yeah.' If they came up to me and told me, 'I want you to play on Wednesday,' I would have played. I want to play. I'm a player. That's what happened. I'm not here because I don't want to play; I'm not that kind of guy."
Francona added later that if there was any lack of communication, he would take the blame.
"When there's a lack of communication or a perceived lack of communication, I always take responsibility for that," Francona said. "I think it is my responsibility. I think he thought the other day that I didn't protect him enough [to the media]. I think he felt like that. Again, I don't necessarily agree with that part of that. I think I do a very good job of always protecting our players. I think it's important for me to do that. But that's about the only place we disagree.
Ramirez didn't say whether he wanted to remain in Boston beyond 2005. His contract expires following the 2008 season, so there's a chance the Red Sox could explore moving him again in the winter, though he'd have 10-5 rights, which would give him the right to veto any potential trade.
"Hey, I'm still here. I'm here to win and help this team win for 2005," said Ramirez.
Shortly before Saturday night's game, Francona huddled with Ramirez. Considering everything that was swirling around the slugger, Francona opted to give him Saturday and Sunday off, which precedes Monday's off-day with the hope that a mentally and physically refreshed cleanup man would re-join the lineup on Tuesday night against the Royals.
As it turns out, Ramirez didn't need that whole sabbatical. He wanted back in on Sunday.
"I told Terry, 'If you need me, I'm here.' I was there, ready," Ramirez said. "I just got [the hit]. I said to myself I'm just going to play the game like I can play it and move on."
But he isn't moving on, at least not from Boston, and that made for a happy clubhouse.
"I'm excited, man. It's a wonderful thing that he's still around here," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "I don't see this team without Manny. We're trying to win another World Series, we got to keep Manny. Manny is one of the best hitters in the game. You don't get a good hitter like that every day."
The Yankees know that also. They certainly wouldn't have minded if the feared slugger was moved to the National League, even if they had to share New York with him.
"Manny's great, and any way to get him out of Boston and out of our league ... I was hoping the Yomiuri Giants would make a phone call," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. "He's a special player, and clearly Boston made the right choice."
On Friday night, Ramirez was booed harshly by the Fenway faithful for the first time since joining the Red Sox in 2001.
"It doesn't bother me, man. This is not my first time I've got booed," said Ramirez. "I don't care about that. I'm just going to go out and do my thing and play the game."
Francona then smiled at Ramirez and said, "This isn't your first rodeo."
Ramirez, like a playful parrot, said, "No, this is not my first rodeo."
As it turns out, he has quite a few more rodeos left in Boston in 2005, and perhaps beyond.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.