ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Manny Ramírez could hardly be blamed for preening, ripping off the Velcro strips on his batting gloves as he paused before taking off for first base while watching his towering shot. He had hit a home run in the previous inning, one that began the four-run sixth-inning rally that tied the score at 4-4. And he does have the most homers (21) by a visiting player at Tropicana Field.
It's just this wasn't one of them. So, when Ramírez realized that the shot might take a bounce in the outfield, which it did, near the right-field foul pole, he also realized it was time to motor. He accelerated around first, picked it up around second, and walked into third for the Red Sox' second standup triple in as many days.
But while the play provided an amusing debate of would-he-or-wouldn't-he (have come home for an inside-the-park home run), it was far from the only highlight he provided in Boston's 9-6 win against Tampa Bay last night. After striking out swinging in the first and grounding out to third in the fourth in what looked to be another frustrating night for the Red Sox, Ramírez turned it on with that 406-foot homer, smoked to left-center on the first pitch from starter Doug Waechter. And, after the triple (the 16th of his 14-year career), he came home on a Trot Nixon sacrifice fly, though he did strike out (in a nine-pitch at-bat) in the ninth inning with the bases loaded.
''When he hits a home run, that uplifts the whole team," hitting coach Ron Jackson said. ''He makes everybody else good around him. He just unites the team. If you get David [Ortiz] and Manny going, that just unites the ball club. Manny hit a home run, got us going. That's big, right there."
Over the course of this nine-game road trip, which concludes today, Ramírez's bat has seemed to heat up, even as the rest of the Red Sox have turned to ice. Ramírez, who had been batting .259 when he left Fenway, raised his average to .289, going 10 for 29 (.345). That included going 2 for 5 last night, and his 8 runs, 7 walks, 4 home runs, and 7 RBIs over the past eight games.
But could that have been five home runs?
''No chance," first base coach Bill Haselman said of any bid for an inside-the-park homer. ''Wouldn't have come close. Period."
Third base coach DeMarlo Hale -- who was watching the ball, not the player -- said it wouldn't have mattered because he wouldn't have sent Ramírez.
''Although it's an exciting play in baseball, with [one out] I'm not going to take a chance unless I know for sure he can almost walk across home without a play being made on him," Hale said. ''Not with this lineup."
And that was probably a good thing for the faint of heart in the dugout, who could do without another trip to the disabled list by another one of their offensive stars. As Kevin Youkilis said, ''I thought, 'Oh, no, just get to third and stop.' I don't want him to pull a hamstring or anything like that."
The good news, for Youkilis and Ramírez and the rest of the Red Sox, is that their slugger looked fine walking through the clubhouse after the game. No pulled hamstring. No need for worry. Because, though they seemed poised to break out of their prolonged downturn at the plate in the later innings of last night's game, Ramírez (along with Ortiz) is a primary catalyst of this offense. One who appears to be prepared to do a lot more damage.