Ramirez wants to remain part of Red Sox's fabric
Coming off the bench and out of a two-game exile, the only World Series MVP the franchise has ever known singled in the game-winning run to beat the Minnesota Twins 4-3 on Sunday and thrill the crowd that wondered whether it had seen the last of him.
"Forget about the trade. This is the place I want to be," Ramirez said. "They want to win. I want to win, too. I'm back."
One year after shipping Nomar Garciaparra out of town in a deal that sparked Boston to its first World Series title in 86 years, general manager Theo Epstein stood pat in a seller's market he likened to a $100 gallon of milk. That left Ramirez in a Red Sox uniform instead of a part chip in a three-team trade with the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
"Things are good with Manny right now. I think you have to take him at his words," the GM said. "He's really happy to be here. This is where he wants to be. ... As we demonstrated through our actions in the end, we want Manny, too."
Thus ended one of the most bizarre weeks in the history of an always tumultuous team.
On Wednesday, Ramirez declined to give up a scheduled day off when the team was shorthanded. Although both sides now generously chalk that up to a misunderstanding, the Fenway fans let Ramirez hear it with a chorus of boos on Friday night.
On Saturday, with trade rumors swirling, manager Terry Francona took Ramirez out of the lineup and offered him two days to clear his head. But on Sunday morning, Ramirez interrupted the manager's press gaggle and made a plea to stay.
"I'm just here to play and win. I'm a gangster," Ramirez said about four hours before the 4 p.m. deadline. "I'm still here. I'm here to win. I'm here to help this team win for 2005."
In a staged but occasionally spontaneous scene, clubhouse clown Kevin Millar mock-translated Ramirez's easily understood English into gibberish. The slugger said he had no problem with Francona, his teammates or the fans.
"Manny and I wanted to have an opportunity where me and him were together, so people don't think we're going to kill each other," the manager said. "He really wanted to speak to you guys with me. I think it was pretty cool."
Francona said he thought the time off was working.
"You see him. He looks OK," Francona said. "He looks like he's handling things he wasn't handling a couple days ago. I wasn't sure about that yesterday; that's why he didn't play. I wasn't sure he was in a position to help us."
A former batting and home run champion, Ramirez leads the majors with 93 RBI. But he's also one of the leading headaches in a Boston clubhouse that credits its chemistry for ending an 86-year title drought.
Though both Francona and Ramirez denied there are any problems between them, the manager also acknowledged that he doesn't expect a 25-man roster to make it through a 162-game season without flare-ups.
"You can't have a perfect ballclub. You can't have a ballclub and not have raised voices. It's supposed to be like that," Francona said. "That's pretty much the way it's been every year. Have a couple fiascos and he drives in 140 -- I hope it continues."
Francona said he didn't expect any more problems from Ramirez this season.
"They're done," he told reporters. "You saw him."
Ramirez sat out on Saturday night, but when he came onto the field for the postgame handshake, a section of the crowd broke into a brief "Manny!" chant. On Sunday, his appearance in the on-deck circle sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Before four pitches could be thrown on an intentional walk to David Ortiz, the Fenway crowd was on its feet. And when Ramirez bounced a single through the middle, things got even louder.
"That was total Hollywood," outfielder Johnny Damon said. "We talked to him, told him we loved him and missed those hugs. He's going to be happy the rest of the year."
Ramirez signed an $160 million, eight-year contract during the baseball-wide spending spree after the 2000 season. And even though he has produced, the contract has become a burden for a team trying to remain in contention and under budget.
Under Epstein, the Red Sox have repeatedly tried to trade Ramirez, famously dangling him in an aborted deal for Alex Rodriguez after the '03 season. And Ramirez has annually made it clear that he didn't like Boston, either.
He has complained that he hasn't been comfortable since leaving the spacious and relatively low-pressure Cleveland clubhouse. He has asked to be traded annually, but few teams are able to take on the $63,885,246 remaining on his contract for the next three years.
The Red Sox had been in talks for a three-team deal that would send Ramirez to the Mets, but those talks stalled. After the season he will have the right to veto any trade.
With rumors swirling as the deadline approached, Francona met with Ramirez before Saturday night's game and gave him the weekend to clear his head; an off-day Monday gives him three days off. Francona said he would avoid using Ramirez as a pinch-hitter, but Ramirez said in the manager's office he was willing to pitch in.
And that he did.
As the media began filing out of his office in the morning, Francona threw his head back with a laugh.
"This place," he said, "it's not boring."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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