09/30/08 8:23 PM ET
No Manny? No matter
After trading away slugger, Red Sox found new identity
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
For the first time since 1999, Boston is in a postseason without Manny being Manny. And there's a strange element to it, considering who the Red Sox are playing in their American League Division Series.
Let the record show that the very last time Ramirez wore a Boston uniform was the night of July 30, which also marks the last time the Sox and the Angels faced off.
As they renew acquaintances for Wednesday's Game 1 of what should be a riveting ALDS, the Red Sox don't even think about the beating they took from the Angels in the regular season, losing eight out of nine.
"We are a different team," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We really weren't playing very good baseball last time we [played them]. Some of that's due to them. They played very well against us, but we are definitely a different ballclub. This series won't be determined on what happened July 30th, it won't be determined on what we did last year. It will be two very good teams going at it, and [we'll] see how it ends. I don't think that will have anything to do with it."
If you ask most members of the Red Sox, they'll tell you there was kind of a demarcation line with their season. The Ramirez days, during which the Sox were 61-48 for a .560 winning percentage, and the post-Ramirez days, during which Boston went 34-19 for a .642 winning percentage. But more than the numbers, the difference has been in direction and confidence.
For in those final days of Ramirez, the Red Sox had started to lose their way, losing five out of six at home to the Angels and Yankees, and looking bad in doing so.
"I think we weren't all headed in the right direction at that time," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "There were some things that were not necessarily bothering a lot of guys, but they were. I think now we've got 25 guys headed in the right direction and our ultimate goal is to win a championship. We're going to try to find a way to do that."
They'll have to do it without Ramirez's big bat, which played a large role in the championship runs of 2004 and '07. This Boston edition will have a more balanced attack. The emergence of Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, and the addition of Jason Bay in the Ramirez trade, has helped fill the offensive void left by one of the finest hitters of all-time.
Quite simply, the Red Sox feel better about who they are right now than they did two months ago.
"I don't think it's that so much [subtracting Ramirez] as it was that this team just had direction," said catcher Jason Varitek. "In my opinion, it comes down to it that at that point the decision was going to be made either way. People need to understand, Manny wasn't hurtful in our clubhouse as much as it was a situation that needed to come to an end. And I think it was going to either way at the end of that Trade Deadline."
And the post-Ramirez Sox seemed to find themselves begin to get well about a day after the trade. Bay came in and fit right in. Paul Byrd and Mark Kotsay were added a few weeks later and had the same seamless transition.
"Personality has been good," said Varitek. "We have the same core group of people. We've added a few guys that are good baseball players and good teammates."
In quiet moments -- as in not at a new conference -- many Boston players will confide that Ramirez wasn't being a good teammate in his final couple of weeks with the team.
But to a man, those within the clubhouse would rather just talk about how things are better now than what was going wrong in those final, unsettling days of Manny.
"We talk all the time about frustration and how you handle it, and we were allowing the frustrations to get in the way of the execution of the game," Francona said. "The last seven weeks or so, we've played very good baseball, and when we haven't played good baseball, we've gotten back on track right away. It's been an enjoyable team to be around, the way we've played the game and, again, it hasn't always gone the way we wanted it to, but when it hasn't, they've battled back and given themselves a chance to win games."
Are the Red Sox a better team without Ramirez than with him?
"There's no answer there," said Youkilis. "We're a good team. We were a good team with Manny. We're a good team without Manny. That's the bottom line. One player does not make a team."
And that's exactly why the Red Sox still feel good about themselves, even if they venture onto the big stage for the first time in a long time without a certain future Hall of Famer.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.