Sunday, July 31, 2005

George Michaels

Sunday the Red Sox swept the Twins, remained 2.5 games ahead of the Yankees (no thanks to the Angels crapping the bed twice in as many days), and got a brief glimpse of the future when 2003 4th round pick Jon Papelbon started the game because of Wade Miller's balky shoulder. Still, all these storylines take a back seat to #24. You know, the guy who annually asks out of Boston only end up more popular after requesting a trade than before.

This whole drama started last week when Trot Nixon went on the DL in Tampa Bay. The next day, depending on which account you read, Manny either refused to play despite Boston having few options in the outfield, or Francona promised Manny a day off and unfortunately it just happen to fall at a bad time. Then we find out that SI has an interview with Ramirez and he says he'd like out of Boston because he has no privacy. After giving him a pass for four seasons, the media finally started to turn on Ramirez, labeling him selfish and delusional, among other things. The low point was Friday, when Manny was pretty heavily booed during his first at-bat. The next 36 hours resulted in roughly 327 stories about various trades that would land Ramirez on the Mets and send a couple of stiffs to the Red Sox.

I say a couple of stiffs, well, because that's what Aubrey Huff and Mike Cameron are. I can understand why the Red Sox wanted to move Manny. After about the 15th time he asks to be traded, taken out of the game, or refuses to pinch-hit, he becomes something of a distraction. Not only to the manager, but also to his teammates. That said, trading him doesn't mean that the Sox shouldn't try to actually get something in return. Huff, is basically a rich man's Kevin Millar. He's a better hitter and fielder, but not by a lot. He certainly has a lot of power, but I'm not sure how acquiring Huff strengthens the bullpen or outfield. And that's where Cameron comes in. A 34-year old career underachiever who's batting a stellar .260 with something like a million strikeouts. My buddy Mike made the observation that with Bellhorn and Cameron in the same lineup the Sox are guaranteed at least 400 strikeouts a season, and I said basically the same thing earlier this season.

And I haven't even mentioned the fact that the Devil Rays (currently Huff's employer) wanted two prospects before they were willing to pull the trigger. So let me see if I got this right: the Red Sox want to move Manny, currently leading the league in homers and RBI, for two average major leaguers, and before Tampa Bay will agree to the moves, the Red Sox are also asked to give up two prospects? Uh, you know what? I'll take my chances with Manny "Manny being Manny" Ramirez and let Huff and Cameron will their respective clubs to last place in their respective divisions, thank you very much.

OK, where was I? Right, Manny's very recent falling out with the local fans and media. Well, after getting booed Friday, he and Francona had "a talk" minutes before Saturday's game and both concluded that Ramirez would be given off both Saturday and Sunday to allow him to "clear his head" as he deals with all the trade rumors. I'm sure "clearing your head" is a euphemism for "get your head out of your ass," but either way, I get the point.

Early Sunday, the story was how effective Papelbon was coming out of the gate. He struck out seven, but slowed by the fifth inning, eventually leaving down 3-2. With the game tied 3-3, and with two outs in the eighth, Renteria hit a double and the Twins decided to walk Ortiz to get to Adam Stern (with the knowledge that Manny would hit for Stern). As the Twins were in the process of walking Papi, you could actually hear the fans' growing sense of anticipation as Manny moved around in the dugout, grabbing his bat and helmet. When he finally emerged from the dugout making his way to the on-deck circle, you would've thought that the Red Sox just won the World Series on the last day of July. Jerry Remy commented that it seemed like the loudest Fenway Park had been all season (apparently, the fans were similarly jazzed when Schilling made his return, but since he subsequently got smoked by the Yankees, we won't talk about that here).

At this point, it would have surprised no one if Ramirez deposited the first pitch he saw onto the Mass Pike. As it turned out, he chopped a 12-hopper up the middle scoring Renteria, and giving the Sox the lead. When Manny got to first base he pointed to Ortiz at second, broke out in a big smile, and then started flashing the Manny wave to anyone who was looking (and to many who weren't). After the inning, he was laughing it up in left field with the fans and periodically looking like good ol' Manny. Remy made the point that Manny getting that 8th inning base hit was the quickest way to make people forget about the latest chapter in this weird little saga. Remy also added, "now don't go and ask to be traded after the game." Good advice.

What's funny, is that before Sunday's game, Manny actually spoke to the press (which happens about as often as Millar choosing not to speak with them) to explain that he actually wants to be in Boston because he loves playing for this team and there's nowhere he'd prefer to be. The only thing more amazing than (a) Manny talking to the press, and (b) Manny denying that he wants to leave, is that (c) you almost believe him -- even though these trade talks are an annual event, and I'm sure in 12 months or so we'll be having similar conversations.

So naturally, the question we should be asking is this: why is Tom Verducci (who wrote the SI story) trying to frame Manny? Is he a closet Yankees fan? Or maybe the Mets? These are all questions that need to be investigated. OK, I'm kidding. Again, I think Remy had it right when he said that he can see how both sides (Manny and the management) are to some degree both telling the truth. Whatever the case, it looks like the Sox have weathered another storm, won arguably the biggest game of the season (and not so much because of the opponent, or the standings, but because it solidifies who'll be making contributions to this Red Sox team for the rest of the season), and still have one of the best hitters in baseball on the payroll. So, unlike my buddy Des, who gave up on Bellhorn earlier this month and Manny early last week, I'm still on the (band)wagon, because well, I'm really lazy. And for all of you who had had enough of Manny, remember what George Michaels said: "You Gotta Have Faith." (Nothing like a crappy '80s music reference to end a post. Solid.)