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A tired team's final reward: sleep and sweet dreams

His mind racing with anticipation, Manny Ramirez went sleepless yesterday until 4 a.m., four hours before he needed to leave home for Fenway Park and the greatest tribute New England has ever paid a baseball team.

''I couldn't rest," Ramirez said. ''I was excited about the parade. I've been going everywhere and people have been telling me, 'Oh my God, you make the city so happy, you make us all so happy.' But they're the ones who make us happy. It's unbelievable."

Curt Schilling, relegated to crutches and a removable cast on his injured right ankle, had spent less time in the community than Ramirez since the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. But as Schilling left his home in Medfield to join his teammates for a rolling rally on 17 amphibious duck boats through the city's streets and storied Charles River, he experienced something similar to the adulation Ramirez had received.

''There were a couple of thousand people down at the end of my driveway," said Schilling, who expects to undergo surgery Wednesday to repair a dislocated tendon in his ankle. ''And there were people lined up from Medfield all the way here. It was pretty cool."

Derek Lowe felt the love, too, so much so that his dad agreed to pick up the morning coffee at the neighborhood Dunkin' Donuts.

''It's a great thing," Lowe said of the outpouring of affection. ''You can't even go to Dunkin' Donuts. Or you can go, but you just have to do a lot of signing, and people want to congratulate you. From that aspect, things have changed because people seem to recognize you more and want to come up and thank you."

The world champions gathered for the last time this season in their clubhouse before they boarded the duck boats, accepted the region's gratitude, then fanned out across at least three continents. Lowe soon would depart for Los Angeles to appear tomorrow on ''The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Johnny Damon was bound for the same city and time slot, to appear on the ''Late Show with David Letterman." David Ortiz was headed for Japan and an exhibition tour of major league stars. Orlando Cabrera would return home to Colombia.

The rest? A lot of them looked forward to going back to bed. They had played 207 games, including spring exhibitions and the playoffs, in 241 days, barnstorming from one corner of the country to the other. They had staged the greatest postseason comeback in baseball history in overcoming a 3-0 deficit in their best-of-seven series against the Yankees. And they were drained after winning four straight games against the Cardinals in the World Series.

It was so much for Ramirez, the Series MVP, that he scratched plans to join Ortiz on the Japan tour. He said he had no appetite for logging 18 more hours in an airplane.

Ortiz, clad in a sweatsuit that said ''Big Daddy" across his chest, was so exhausted from the season and from making a mad dash with Pedro Martinez Friday to Disney World that he hardly had much energy left. He said he needed to rest an ailing shoulder. But rather than cancel the trip to Japan, Ortiz indicated he may forgo playing in the Dominican Winter League.

One player, third baseman Bill Mueller, already had departed. Mueller returned home to Arizona, where his wife, Alexis, was to deliver their second child. But Mueller, whose option for 2005 was picked up Friday by the Sox, was all but certain to rejoin the team in spring training.

Lowe was less certain to return, though hopeful. One of 17 prospective free agents on the team -- Martinez, Cabrera, and Jason Varitek head the list -- Lowe seemed destined to move on after a subpar regular season in which he went 14-12 with a 5.42 ERA and was removed from the postseason rotation. But he emerged from the bullpen to make a spectacular contribution in the playoffs.

''I've had nothing but positive feedback from fans saying, 'Please come back,' " he said. ''That means a lot to me because I think they appreciated what happened not only with the team but with me."

Whether Sox management appreciated it enough to pay Lowe what he believes he deserves remains to be seen. The team has two weeks to negotiate exclusively with their prospective free agents, and Lowe indicated he is open to accepting less to stay in Boston if the team makes him a reasonable offer.

''You're going to take less to come back here because in that two-week period you're basically only negotiating with one team," he said. ''I realize that. I hope they make it a tough decision because it really is ultimately up to them."

As for Ramirez, he seemed a bit surprised to learn the day after the World Series that the Mets reportedly were interested in acquiring him. He spent much of last year wondering where he might land after the Sox first placed him on irrevocable waivers (no team claimed him and the balance of his eight-year, $160-million contract) and then tried to trade him to Texas for Alex Rodriguez.

''Can you believe this?" Ramirez said with a smile. ''Now they have me going to the Mets. After all this? I haven't even enjoyed my parade yet."

The fact is, Ramirez said, he has found happiness in Boston.

''I want to finish my career here," he said. ''This is the place to be, especially after you break the curse of 86 years."

Schilling, meanwhile, was headed nowhere until after his surgery. He said the final hurdles before he enters the operating room include reducing the swelling in his ankle and ensuring he had not developed an infection from doctors twice securing his tendon by suturing the deep tissue around it.

Schilling said he went to Disney World Thursday against the medical staff's wishes and indicated he scratched tentative plans to campaign in New Hampshire for President Bush for the same reason.

''They didn't want me to go to Disney, but they didn't know I was going until after the game was over and we were on the plane coming home and it was already a done deal," he said. ''They said other than the parade, they didn't want me out of the house."

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