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On the outs

Ramirez is OK -- but he's not in the lineup

CHICAGO -- Red Sox manager Grady Little benched slugger Manny Ramirez for last night's important interdivisional game against the Chicago White Sox, even though Ramirez, whose absence from the previous four games because of an acutely sore throat has become shrouded in controversy, told him he felt well enough to serve as designated hitter.

Little insisted his move was not a disciplinary measure.

"He's available to DH today," Little said before the game, "but my decision to wait is -- I like the way our club has responded the last few days, and we're trying to win the game. I'm putting the team out there that I think gives us the best chance to win tonight."

On Monday, Ramirez turned down several requests by Little and his coaches to pinch hit as the Red Sox rallied from behind to beat the Philadelphia Phillies with six runs in the ninth inning. When asked if that factored into his decision, Little said, "That was part of it."

Ramirez leads the team with 31 home runs, was second to Nomar Garciaparra in runs batted in with 90, had an eight-game hitting streak before missing the last four games, and has a team-best 16 career home runs against the White Sox. Little, asked directly if he was disciplining Ramirez, said, "No, I'm trying to win the game."

David Ortiz was the DH and cleanup hitter last night. Gabe Kapler played left field.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who was back in Boston, issued a statement in support of Little's decision.

"As a front office, we fully support Grady's decision not to put Manny in the starting lineup tonight," Epstein said. "Grady's going with a lineup that gives us the best chance to win as a team, and tonight that does not include Manny, despite his availability to DH.

"Manny's a big part of this ball club, and we all look forward to getting him back on the field very soon and watching him help this team win some important ballgames. Contrary to some reports, Manny has not been suspended. He's not in the lineup tonight, and we all support Grady's decision."

Little would not say how Ramirez reacted to the benching, but Ramirez was seen laughing and joking before the game with teammates and members of the White Sox. Approached by a reporter at his locker, Ramirez grabbed a bottle of water, took a drink, put on his headphones, and turned away.

Ramirez missed all three games of the weekend series the Sox had with the Yankees in Fenway Park after being diagnosed with pharyngitis, the medical term for a sore throat. He also had abdominal distress, according to a club spokesman. Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, who also was diagnosed with pharyngitis, has been on antibiotics for the last 14 days, and according to a club source, one of his throat cultures tested positive for strep.

But Ramirez raised questions about his health when he met socially Saturday night with Enrique Wilson, a former Cleveland teammate who plays for the Yankees, then did not show at the ballpark for a doctor's appointment the next morning, forcing Little to wait until just before game time to fill out his lineup card. The team eventually dispatched team doctor Bill Morgan to Ramirez's home, and the club said the player was told to remain there.

On Monday, Ramirez accompanied the team to Philadelphia for a makeup game with the Phillies but said he was too ill to play.

"We asked him during the game and he said he didn't feel strong enough to pinch hit," Little said.

Asked if he was disappointed in Ramirez's unavailability the last two games, Little said: "It's always disappointing when you don't have the availability of one of your regular players. The idea I have now is we're trying to win every game we can. I'm going to put the lineup on the field that I feel gives us the best chance to win."

Little left open the possibility that he would use Ramirez as a pinch hitter last night "if I think it would help us win the game."

Later, Little reiterated that there were "a lot of factors" involved in his decision. He took a finger and circled the names he'd written on his lineup card. "All these factors are involved," he said. "All these people. You know what I mean?"

Outfielder Johnny Damon said the team would have preferred Ramirez to be at the ballpark for Sunday's game against the Yankees. Even his presence on the bench, Damon said, would have affected strategic moves by Yankees manager Joe Torre. Ortiz, Ramirez's closest friend on the team, defended Ramirez's absence, but added, "I'm the kind of guy, you've got to put me down to make me quit. That's the way I am. I never had it easy. I can't give up. But I'm David Ortiz. Not everybody is like that."

The Red Sox were still looking into the circumstances of Ramirez's absence, according to a club official, but the illness complicates the possibility of further discipline, such as a fine or suspension. Such an action would invite the intervention of the players' union, which almost certainly would file a grievance.

Little was the Indians' bench coach in 2000, Ramirez's last year in Cleveland before signing an eight-year, $160 million deal with the Red Sox, and had cited his relationship with Ramirez as a selling point when he was hired as Sox manager in March 2002. "Manny will play for me," he said then. Yesterday, Little said: "Manny has played for me. He has played hard for us all season."

Asked to explain Ramirez's conduct the last few days, Little turned his hands upward and shrugged. One high-ranking club executive said last week that Ramirez "has been miserable here from Day 1," and within the Sox inner circle the belief is that Ramirez would prefer to play elsewhere. Ramirez drew additional attention last week for an interview he did with ESPN's Joe Morgan in which he said he'd like to someday play for the Yankees.

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