With a bat in his fists, Manny Ramirez is an MVP, a player who can lay waste to whole pitching staffs and carry his team through the darkest of times.
With a glove on one hand, though, Ramirez is trouble waiting to happen, pure and simple. And Tuesday, trouble happened.
The fun-loving left fielder of the Red Sox turned a potentially great fielding play into a Sox-killing hit in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, allowing Bernie Williams' eighth-inning line drive to get over his head for a two-run double that sealed the game for the Yankees.
It was not an easy play. The ball landed close to, or maybe on, the warning track. It was a line drive. But Ramirez, never the best of fielders, didn't give himself a chance at catching the ball. Playing shallow to try to keep the runner at second from scoring on a single, Ramirez didn't break immediately back on the ball, and by the time he realized how hard it was hit, it was too late.
Instead, when he finally took a turn toward the wall, after a step or two across the outfield, all he could do was flail wildly as the ball carried over his head.
The two runs put the Yankees up 10-7.
"If he can get there, we have a shot," said Boston centerfielder Johnny Damon. "But Bernie hit that ball pretty good."
From the Bench
Curt Schilling's early exit gave Boston manager Terry Francona a chance to look at the back end of his bullpen. Curtis Leskanic came in for Schilling, followed by Ramiro Mendoza, followed by Tim Wakefield, followed by Alan Embree. It was the first postseason action for Leskanic, Mendoza and Wakefield, and Embree had pitched in only an inning of Boston's three-game sweep of the Angels in the AL Division Series. Francona used seven pitchers, including Mike Timlin and closer Keith Foulke. ... Jason Varitek's home run in the seventh inning off Yankees reliever Tanyon Sturtze was his first hit in Yankee Stadium this year. It came in his 37th at-bat. ... As much as this might seem like the same old ALCS, both the Yankees and Red Sox have vastly different rosters than they did at this time last year. Boston, which lost in Game 7 of last year's ALCS, has 11 new players. The Yankees, beaten by the Marlins in a six-game World Series, have 15 new faces.
With Schilling's light workload Tuesday (three innings, just 58 pitches), there's already talk about his availability later on in this series, perhaps as early as Game 4. His bum ankle, though, may not allow him to do that. In fact, there's a chance we may have seen the last of Schilling for this series. "If I can't go out there with something better than that," he said, "I'm not going out there." ... Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, still en route to the Stadium at pregame introductions, made it to the bullpen in the bottom of the fifth inning and was greeted by hugs and backslaps from his teammates. Rivera had made an emergency trip to Panama for the funeral of two family members killed in an accident at his house earlier this week. ... Seen in the Yankee Stadium crowd: tycoon Donald Trump. Seen waiting outside Joe Torre's office before the game: comedian Billy Crystal.
Tons of questions, and not a lot of answers, came out of this weird, weird Game 1. But there are a couple of certainties:
1.) Both teams can rake (24 hits between the two of them);
2.) And the Yankees can safely say they got away with one.
How do you almost blow an 8-0 lead? The Red Sox are good, granted, but by letting them come back (the Sox finally got to Mussina, and then the Yankees relievers gave up three earned runs in just 2 1/3 innings of work), this series just got a lot harder for the pinstripers. You'd better believe that the Red Sox, for one, now think no lead is too big for them to overcome.
The Red Sox, of course, have their own problems. Schilling is probably more hurt than even he realized. Timlin had his second bad relief outing (three hits and two runs in 2/3 of an inning). Is it too late for fielding lessons for Ramirez?
Most so-called experts had this series going six or seven games, and Tuesday's game doesn't change that perception. In the end, the home team won, just like it's supposed to do.