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Most valuable in the clutch

Ramirez heated up at appropriate time

ST. LOUIS -- How could this scruffy, relentless bunch of baseball throwbacks have one most valuable player? By definition, they could not. Who would it, should it, be? David Ortiz? Curt Schilling? Pedro Martinez? Johnny Damon? Derek Lowe? Keith Foulke? Mark Bellhorn?

So the MVP trophy of the World Series had to go to Manny Ramirez, whose carefree exuberance and dynamic performance symbolized what these Red Sox were about. The man the club couldn't give away during the offseason was the man whose grinning countenance was their public face.

"We're just a bunch of idiots," Ramirez proclaimed last night, after his mates had swept the Cardinals to win their first title since 1918 and eclipse 86 years of futility and frustration. "We don't think. We eliminate thinking. We just go out and play and have fun."

Nobody had more fun or provided more lunatic moments all spring, summer, and fall than Ramirez, who wasn't even sure he'd be with the ball club a year ago. So he left it up to divine providence.

"I left everything in God's hands," Ramirez said, his champagne-drenched shirt sticking to his body. "If they [the Sox] wanted to take me back to Boston, I go back to Boston. If they want me to be in Texas, I'll go and prepare myself to have a great year. If I go back to Boston, and I did, it's because there's a reason. God sent me back for a reason."

As soon as he went to spring training, even before his teammates had morphed from cowboys to idiots, Ramirez sensed something special was on deck. "I went through a lot of drama during the winter, but I keep my mind positive," he said. "I told my wife before the season, baby, this is going to be my year. This is going to be our year. And we did it, man. We're the champs."

For a goofy moment in the Series opener, when Ramirez made two comically brutal errors in left field, it looked as if he'd be the goat if the Sox ended up losing yet again. But he literally came bouncing up, grinning and shrugging and movin' on. And when the Series was done, Ramirez had hit .412 and had hit safely in all 14 postseason games, extending his playoff streak to 17 games, matching the record held by Hank Bauer and Derek Jeter.

The biggest hit of his seven in the Series, though, was his first-inning homer here in Game 3 that got his mates up and going. If the Cardinals thought that a change of venue, that the absence of a big green wall, would make a difference . . .

For most of October, the man had been Ortiz. Where was Manny? Where he'd always been, hitting third and patrolling (loosely speaking) his swatch of outfield. There was a time when the front office didn't think it could live with No. 24. In the end, how could it have lived without him?

He was endearing, he was aggravating. He was clueless, he was clutch. He was Manny, the manchild who needed no last name. The two errors? That was Manny. The big home run? Manny, too.

Last night, he understood, was the biggest ballgame in franchise history. There were four chances to win it, but Ramirez wanted just one. "I was talking to some of the guys and I said, `Hey, let's go. Don't let these guys breathe,' " he said. "We know what happened against New York. We came back. In baseball, anything can happen out there."

After Foulke tossed the ball to Doug Mientkiewicz for the final, most improbable out in more than eight decades, Ramirez came jogging and jumping in, pointing his index finger to the sky.

The MVP trophy was a welcome exclamation point, another bauble for the trophy case. "It means a lot," Ramirez acknowledged. "But I want to get the ring, and I have it. That's something nobody is going to take away from you. The other stuff, you never know when you're going to get it. But I'm just blessed to be the MVP and to win a World Series. I think God is blessing me with a lot of stuff. My two kids, my wife, everything. I have it all. There's nothing that I can complain about."

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