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Epstein says he's not allowed to talk about the complicated events of last winter, when Manny Ramirez was put on waivers and then became a cog in the torturous machinations by which the Red Sox tried to pry Alex Rodriguez away from Texas, only to have Rodriguez end up with the Yankees and Ramirez back with the Red Sox, as though nothing had happened.
"Anywhere I was going to go, I was going to do my job," Ramirez says. "I left everything to God, and I said, God, if you want me to stay here in Boston, I will. If you want me to go to Texas, I'll go there. I'll be fine in either place, man."
Ramirez and Boston always were an odd fit, even though his production remained a constant. (In 2001, his first season with the Red Sox, he hit 41 home runs, and the following year, despite playing in only 120 games, he had 33 while winning the American League batting title with a .349 average.) From the start, the quirks that were charming in Cleveland curdled in Boston. He missed the All-Star workouts in Seattle in '01, claiming to some reporters that his grandmother had died, though the circumstances of her demise were suspiciously vague. In '02 Ramirez arrived late to spring training, then broke a finger on a silly headfirst slide. His rehab stint in Triple A Pawtucket, R.I., was enlivened when he delayed a game looking for a diamond earring he'd lost somewhere on the base paths. In September of that year he infamously did a right-face into the dugout after hitting a grounder in Tampa, a play critics used as a defining moment for a flat Red Sox season--even though Ramirez would hit .468 for the month while winning the league batting championship.
During the 2003 season Ramirez again was as balky as he was productive. His relationship with manager Grady Little had completely collapsed by the middle of September, when Ramirez asked out of the Yankees series with a sore throat. It was first whispered and then all but shouted that Ramirez was unhappy in Boston and that the whopping deal he'd signed right there on ESPN had been the biggest mistake of his life.
Now it's designated hitter David Ortiz's turn to talk about the swing. More to the point, he's talking about how it battered the Blue Jays and the Oakland Athletics at Fenway in May. The first night Blue Jays reliever Micheal Nakamura tried to slip a fastball by Ramirez. Several nights later Oakland's Chris Hammond hung a changeup. Ramirez hit both pitches over everything in left and into a parking lot across Lansdowne Street.
"Let's say you come to the game," Ortiz explains. "You know, you bring your family to the game, and you're having a great time, and the Boston Red Sox are winning, so everybody is happy, and then you leave and POOM! your windshield is gone.
"That's why I don't park out there no more, man. Because Manny's here."
Ramirez has been listening in. "Sorry, Papi," he says, laughing.
Ramirez's relationships within the Boston clubhouse seem to sustain him. This is a different Red Sox team from those grim Caucasian battalions of the 1950s and '60s and from the sour victims of cruel fate that made up the roster for the ensuing 40 years. An appealing goofball streak developed in the Red Sox last season, and Ramirez found solace in that. He became friends with Millar, whose ungainly gyrations on the Fenway Park message board became a staple in the late innings. "He got buried by the media," Millar explains. "That wasn't his loss. That was their loss."