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Outing is a blast for Ramirez

NEW YORK -- You can tell Manny Ramirez likes playing baseball in New York.

He smiles a lot more, interacts with the media, and runs out ground balls. And, more important, he belted a first-inning home run off Yankees starter Shawn Chacon yesterday that nearly reached the Red Sox bullpen, a long poke, in the Sox' 9-2 victory.

In a game in which the Sox scored nine runs, six in the fourth inning, Ramirez's homer was a distant memory by the end. But it was Ramirez who got things going for the Boston offense, making Chacon pay dearly for a two-out walk to David Ortiz. Ramirez hit a 2-and-2 pitch, and at first it sounded as if he had broken his bat. But Ramirez hit it so hard, he almost broke the ball.

Ramirez, who grew up in the Washington Heights section of the city, was the subject of trade discussions with the Mets before the deadline at the end of July. The deal was squashed when the Sox felt they weren't getting appropriate value in return, and Ramirez proclaimed his love for the organization and the city of Boston.

While Ramirez will reach 10-5 status in the offseason, which gives him the right to veto a deal, trade discussions could heat up again, with Ramirez down to the last three seasons of his eight-year, $160 million deal.

Until that time, Ramirez appears to be a happy camper. Yesterday's homer, RBI single, and walk may indicate that he's coming out of the malaise he's been in lately. He had been in a 5-for-31 slump (.161) in his previous nine games.

It was Ramirez's first home run in 63 at-bats. He had gone through a similar streak earlier this season, when he went 69 homerless at-bats, finally breaking that streak with a June 12 homer at Wrigley Field.

Ramirez, who has 34 homers and 120 RBIs, contributed a nice piece of hitting in the middle of the big fourth inning, his single to right scoring Boston's third run of the inning.

He has worn out righthanded pitching, as 26 of his 34 homers have come off righties; he is hitting just over .300 against them.

It was also interesting to see Ramirez running hard down the line on a tapper back to the pitcher in the third inning, a sign that his sometime troublesome hamstrings are healthy again.

Hitting coach Ron Jackson said, ''He's been working hard with me every single day. We do a little thing together every day and I'm not going to disclose what it is, but I think it's really helped him.

''He's always working on his swing, and when he gets into a funk, it's usually because he's trying to overswing, trying to do a little too much.

''He knows he's doing it. He's aware, but sometimes you have to remind him to relax and just hit the ball to left center and right center. That's when he's his best."

Gabe Kapler said, ''When he's hot, it tends to make our whole lineup hot. It's contagious. He gives us a little bit of a spark. It's hard to explain, but it's almost as if he's the guy we take our lead from.

''He got a hit [Friday] and I think that was a good sign that he was coming out of it. I mean, the guy can hit and he always hits. People would love to hit as well as he does when he's in a so-called slump. It's great to see."

Ramirez politely declined to speak to reporters, first saying, ''No thank you" to media requests and then adding, ''I gotta go."

He doesn't have a lot of family left in the city, but his sister and uncle still live here along with a few friends. Ramirez always considers this a homecoming. He's always hit well here. His home run was his 23d at Yankee Stadium.

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