Red Sox management is good and steamed at the $160 million man, and so are some of his teammates, but the players in this clubhouse seem to be able to overcome anything. Yesterday, they rallied for six runs in the ninth -- a rally capped by Trot Nixon's grand slam off the Budweiser sign at the moribund Vet -- and took a 13-9 victory on the way to Chicago.
Plagued by a severe sore throat, Manny reported on time yesterday. He traveled to Philadelphia with his teammates and seemed pretty peppy in the clubhouse before the game. But he didn't play. While Manny sat for the fourth straight game and said he was not well enough to pinch hit, Damian Jackson and Lou Merloni (bases loaded) both went to the plate with men aboard in the ninth and delivered clutch singles. Doug Mirabelli also came through with a leadoff walk.
There was a lot of talk about resilience in the Sox clubhouse. Grand slam hero Nixon was pointed in his remarks.
"This says a lot about the team and guys who are on it and guys who went into the game today," said Nixon, making an obvious reference to Manny's reluctance to grab a bat. "You can look at that any way you want. I'm sure a lot of people would like to have seen Manny up there. Well, I'm just as confident with the people who went to the plate. Those guys are the MVPs of this game. I'm not talking about Manny, just those guys."
Nixon was not the only Sox regular to applaud the replacements. It was a theme throughout the clubhouse. This is a team bent on making it to the postseason, and it is trying to do it without Ramirez's latest stunt impeding the cause.
The Labor Day of Love poured some hope into the Nation. Sox fans hadn't been this happy since Friday when Grady's Guys routed the Yankees and appeared ready to overtake the Bombers. But that was before Manny's Lost Weekend and the two bitter defeats against New York. That was before we all learned how to spell "pharyngitis."
Ah, the Lost Weekend. It turns out that while Sox fans were agonizing over Saturday's crushing loss, Manny was hanging out with Yankees infielder Enrique Wilson. The fraternization itself is nothing unusual these days, but only Manny is bold enough to entertain an opposing player while he's supposed to be bed-ridden. And this after telling ESPN that he wants to play for the Yankees.
It's stuff like this that's going to get Grady Little fired at the end of this year. Top-tier Sox executives John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Theo Epstein have been equally guilty of enabling Ramirez's odd behavior (not to mention kissing Pedro Martinez's butt at every opportunity), but Little is the one who'll be first to take a fall. It's his fault for treating the children like men. As the Delta House members said to Flounder in "Animal House," "You [messed] up. You trusted us."
There was some macabre symbolism in the Sox locker room at Veterans Stadium yesterday morning. Forced to return to the workplace on an aptly named Labor Day, Manny bounded into the clubhouse with most of his teammates. Pedro, naturally, had already gone on to Chicago even though he won't pitch until Friday in New York. John Burkett was also sent ahead, but he's pitching tonight in Chitown. Tim Wakefield, who doesn't pitch until Saturday, said, "They asked me if I wanted to go to Chicago, but I said no. I want to be with my teammates." Hmmmm.
Manny seemed happy, almost buoyant before the game. He had tunes playing in his locker, joked with a friend from the Sox Spanish network, flipped through some magazines, and made phone calls.
But for the fourth straight day, he was not in the lineup.
Asked how he was feeling, he said, "I ain't got nothing to say to you."
In the corner office, poor Little said, "I don't think he's going to be able to go today. Maybe tomorrow."
Asked about Manny's Saturday night outing at the Ritz, Little said, "I don't know anything about that. I'll find out." After the game, Little said he asked Ramirez about Saturday night, "But I don't have anything to say about that."
The manager's "no comment" makes it unanimous. Regarding Ramirez, the usually-forthcoming Sox brass has maintained its "no comment" posture since Sunday. One Sox official said there were "serious concerns" about Ramirez's behavior and accountability, and on his WEEI radio show, Epstein took some obvious shots at Ramirez by praising Johnny Damon (who was injured Saturday but ready to play yesterday).
"That's what you want to see your players do in a pennant race," said Epstein. "Fight your way back into the lineup. We weren't expecting him to be out here, but he sucked it up."
Little went the same route after the game, noting, "Johnny Damon played today, and he's not 100 percent."
And what about Manny?
"He'll let us know when he's ready to play," said the manager.
Was Ramirez asked during the game if he could pinch hit?
"We stayed in contact with him, and he didn't feel like he had enough strength to help us out yet," said Little. "He'll let us know when he's ready. Toward the end of the game, Jerry Narron went up to check with him."
No go. And so Merloni went to bat with the bases loaded and one out and the Sox trailing by two in the ninth. And Lou delivered.
Memo to outraged readers and op-ed columnists who are always ready to cancel subscriptions and accuse the media of picking on minority players: It is Red Sox management and some teammates who are fed up with Ramirez this time. None of us knows how poorly Ramirez is feeling, but the Sox asked him to come to the park Sunday, and he never did. He was difficult to reach before the club finally sent the doctor to his house. All that was before learning that Ramirez had been socializing with a Yankee Saturday night after going home sick on the biggest afternoon of the season.
A friend who spoke with Manny yesterday reported that Manny said he was feeling better. He told the friend that he was aware of the controversy back home. He told the friend that reports of him being out drinking Saturday (there were no such reports, only that he was in a bar) were "bull [expletive]."
Epstein said the Manny situation will be addressed at the appropriate time. Meanwhile, there are 25 games left to play, the Sox are very much alive in the wild-card hunt, and Manny might be back tonight. Or maybe not.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.