Eight men out, one off the wall
Are the Red Sox making deals, releasing veterans, and burning up the phone lines because they are afraid they can't win another championship as presently constituted? No way! Winners by a 5-2 count over the mighty Devil Rays last night -- with Curt Schilling picking up his first save in 13 years -- the Sox are playing so well they think they can beat you with only eight players on the field.
It almost happened a couple of times against Tampa Bay this series.
On Monday, Manny Ramirez was spending some time inside the left-field wall between pitches and damn near found himself inside the wall when Wade Miller went into his delivery.
Manny emerged in time for Miller's pitch and was trotting into position as the righthander delivered his first pitch to Joey Gathright. The Tampa Bay center fielder did not swing. Good thing. Gathright singled to left on the next pitch and Manny was there to scoop the ball and fire (late and wide) toward home.
Imagine if left field had been empty when Gathright singled. ESPN could have invented a new blooper trophy for its contrived award show and ceaseless self-promotion.
''That would have been something," Miller said, admitting that he never thought to check if he had a left fielder behind him before going into his motion.
''Why would I check?" said Miller.
Good question. What pitcher turns around to count his outfielders before he looks in for the sign? Does Tom Brady think to make sure there are 10 other players on the field before he goes into his snap count?
What about it, Manny? What were you doing behind the green door?
''I [urinated] in a cup," said Ramirez.
It's hard to know when Manny is kidding. We do know there is no bathroom inside the left-field wall. It's a dark, hot, smelly hovel, occupied by a couple of scoreboard operators -- traditionally guys being punished by the grounds crew chief. There was speculation that Manny was going into the wall to cool off in front of an electric fan, but the pee break seems more likely.
''He wasn't in there putting up scores, that's for sure," said Kevin Millar, who has spent a few nights patrolling the lawn in left. ''That's just Manny. Sometimes I'll go over to talk with Johnny Damon if we're making a pitching change, but I don't go inside the wall."
''I'm just glad he came back," said Sox manager Terry Francona.
The Sox looked like they might try going with only eight again last night. When the Franconamen first took the field after a 15-minute rain delay, the acreage in front of the wall again was vacant. Manny was nowhere in sight while Bronson Arroyo warmed up and Damon and Millar played catch in right-center. Moments before the first pitch, Manny appeared in the dugout, gathered his hat and glove, then bounded up the dugout steps. He tripped on the top step and almost went face-first into the dirt. He dropped his glove as he neared second base, then finally got to his position and exchanged double pointy-signs with fans in the left-field grandstand.
With one out in the first, Carl Crawford hit a bloop into shallow left. Shortstop Edgar Renteria backpedaled and appeared set to make the catch, but Manny called him off, only to kick the ball after it dropped in front of him. Crawford wound up scoring.
Manny got the run back in the fourth with the 415th homer of his career, a heat-seeking missile into the Monster Seats near the light tower in left-center. It was Manny's 25th homer of the season and gave the Sox a 2-1 lead.
Arroyo, Mike Timlin, and the inimitable Schill took care of the rest.
The piece de resistance was the appearance of Mr. Self Importance in the ninth. It could not have been set up better for the Red Sox' new closer. After strolling in from the bullpen to the strains of ''The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (made that up, it was actually ''Are You Ready" by Creed), Schill got to face Jonny Gomes, Fernando Cortez, and Toby Hall.
He fanned Gomes (swinging) on a 94-mile-per-hour heater. Cortez was retired on a liner to left (the first ball Manny caught all night) and Hall popped to John Olerud at first. Schilling went 375 games and 2,667 innings between saves.
Too easy. Big Schill and the Sox probably could beat these guys with eight.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.