ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Nice lineup last night. On the heels of the Lost Weekend, the Red Sox attempted to rebound against the Angels with Kevin Youkilis hitting cleanup, and the trio of Doug Mirabelli (.200), Gabe Kapler (.219), and Dustin Pedroia (big league debut) at the bottom of the order.
Where was Manny Ramírez, you ask?
Resting his sore right hamstring. Manny sat for eight innings before pinch hitting in the ninth and lining out to deep center against Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez. The reeling Red Sox lost their sixth straight, 4-3, as Youkilis flied out with two aboard to end the game.
It's always a story when Manny takes a day or two to rest his hammy. During Ramírez's spectacular six-year stint with the Red Sox, he annually misses a few games with a sore hamstring. It works every time, because when it comes to tweaked hamstrings, only the patient truly knows how he's feeling. It's the athlete's equivalent of the fourth grade boy who won't go to school because he has a headache. There are no grounds for a challenge even if you have suspicions.
Clearly, Terry Francona isn't about to challenge Manny. It's simply not worth it. Tito knows how this works. You want to keep Manny happy, so you let him sit when he wants to sit. The reward is significant. Ramírez is a modern-day Jimmie Foxx. Besides, maybe Manny really does have a cramp in his right hamstring.
Trouble is, we're pretty darned sure Manny has faked it in the past to get out of All-Star duties or maybe just to pout when Pedro Martínez was getting time off for dad's birthday.
This time, we have a juicy conspiracy theory, which holds that Ramírez is annoyed because of an official scorer's decision in Friday night's loss to the Yankees. Manny, who was absolutely scalding the baseball throughout the Yankee series (8 for 11 with nine walks), lost a base hit when a hard hopper clanged off the backhand glove of Derek Jeter in the fifth inning of the second game. In yesterday's Providence Journal, Sean McAdam wrote, ``Ramírez was enraged by the call, and was so angry about it the next day that he had to be talked into playing the Saturday afternoon game."
Monday, when the Sox lost the Yankee finale, 2-1, Ramírez bowed out after the fourth inning, complaining of cramps in his right hamstring. And last night, he was not in the lineup, nor was he limping as he padded around the clubhouse late in the afternoon.
Manny hasn't had much to say this year, but this seemed like a time to give it a shot, so I strolled over to him as he inspected a crate of bats, and I asked him if he'd answer a few questions.
He said nothing. In fact, for a moment I thought I'd willed myself invisible like Wade Boggs. I felt a little like Patrick Swayze standing over Demi Moore in ``Ghost." I hadn't experienced this kind of abject diss since trying to talk to Albert Belle back in the 1990s. After a few seconds, during which Manny continued to inspect the lumber and ignore me, he turned, smiled slightly, put his hand on my right shoulder and walked away.
Minutes later, Francona bobbed and weaved like Sugar Ray Leonard when asked about the conspiracy theory. The manager said it was a nonstory and went to great lengths to rip the scorer's decision, but never flatly denied the contention that Ramírez had to be talked into playing Saturday because he was agitated.
Tito said the Sox planned to formally protest to the league office to have the Jeter error changed into a hit for Manny.
``In my opinion, it was a horrendous call, and I think the [expletive] scorer ought to be embarrassed," said Francona. ``It's an [expletive] major league game."
Reached at home in Greater Boston last night, official scorer Joe Giuliotti, a former longtime Herald scribe, said, ``[Francona] ought to be embarrassed after what happened over the weekend. I would think he's got more to worry about than that.
``I call them as I see them. I'm standing by it. I can't believe there's such a flap over that one. How many times does Jeter make that play?"
Informed that it was reported that Ramírez threatened to sit out because of the call, Giuliotti said, ``You've got to be kidding me. I cost the Red Sox the World Series? I didn't think it was that difficult of a play."
Youkilis said, ``That was the worst. We have no home-field advantage."
Youk tied the game with a two-out double in the seventh last night, but said the cleanup position would be waiting whenever Manny is ready to return.
``I'll go out on a limb and say I think Manny's going to hit cleanup the rest of his career," said Mr. Cleanup For A Day.
Meanwhile, we wait until Manny is ready. And, as always, we wonder if he cares. Nomar Garciaparra was taken to task for not playing in that historic midsummer game in Yankee Stadium in 2004 -- the night Jeter dived into the stands. Mark Loretta stayed around the clubhouse until 2:30 Monday morning to have cramps worked on so he'd be able to play that day. How to explain Manny coming out of that game Monday with cramps?
OK, it's Manny being Manny and everything is always forgiven by fanboys and sycophants because the numbers are there at the end of the year. For sure, none of Manny's teammates will call him out now because, like Francona, they know there's no upside to challenging Ramírez. But you can be pretty sure they're wondering what is going on with the savant slugger as he rests his hamstring while the team is freefalling.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.