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09/25/07 8:56 PM ET

Ramirez returns for Oakland opener

After missing 24 games, slugger in No. 2 spot in lineup

BOSTON -- Upon first glance at Red Sox manager Terry Francona's lineup card, nothing had changed, and Manny Ramirez was going to be out of the mix for the 25th game in a row with a strained left oblique. But that was if you narrowed your attention to the No. 4 spot in the lineup, where Ramirez has batted for the majority of his seven years with the Red Sox.

As it turns out, Ramirez did return to the Boston lineup Tuesday night in the opener of a two-game series against the Athletics. It's just that the left fielder batted second, a spot in the order usually reserved for table-setters instead of future Hall of Fame sluggers.

This was Francona's way of easing Ramirez back into the mix. As planned, Ramirez left midway through the game.

"We could either pinch-hit him, because it's been 24 games, that's a long time," said Francona before the game. "[But] what we'll do is maybe play him part of a game and try to build up. ... It's not so much the swinging I don't think, as standing in the outfield and trying to go in directions that are not pre-conceived. We'll see how that goes."

Ramirez went 1-for-2, singling to right and scoring a run in the first, before popping out in the second. He walked in the fifth before giving way to pinch-runner Brandon Moss.

"We'll try to get Manny to a point quickly where he's not only comfortable in the batter's box, but able to stand out in left field and play a full game," Francona said. "That's the whole hope."

Entering the game, Ramirez had only taken six at-bats in his entire career batting in the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

"He's hitting second, so I think he'll move over the runners and play small ball," quipped Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis.

Speaking of Youkilis, who has missed the last eight games with a right wrist contusion, he'll be back in there on Wednesday night.

Both Ramirez and Youkilis spent Monday's off-day taking batting practice at a near-vacant Fenway Park. As it turns out, that session helped pave the way for Ramirez's return.

How long will it take Ramirez to get his groove back?

"I hope about a half hour," quipped Francona. "I don't know. How do you know? Nobody knows that. He swung the bat great yesterday. He was hitting balls all over the place, but it's not a game. You don't know, nobody really knows."

What everyone does know is that the Red Sox are a far more imposing team with Ramirez than without him. At a time the Sox are trying to win the American League East for the first time since 1995, they welcomed back their right-handed hitting machine.

"He's been feeling better lately," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "He's been looking good when we hit in batting practice. We hit in the same group and work out together. I could tell when he was hurting. He was pushing the ball. He wasn't going through it like he normally does. Lately he's been doing better. Hopefully, everything goes well."

The Red Sox entered the night leading the Yankees by two games in the AL East. Boston clinched a postseason berth over the weekend at Tampa Bay. The magic number for clinching the division is five.

Boston went 12-12 during Ramirez's absence from the lineup.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.