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Ailing Ramírez will be taking a back seat

Dustin Pedroia is howling mad after oversliding the bag and getting tagged out by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter on a steal attempt in the first inning. Dustin Pedroia is howling mad after oversliding the bag and getting tagged out by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter on a steal attempt in the first inning. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

NEW YORK -- Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramírez, who did not play last night and probably won't be in the lineup this afternoon for the conclusion of this three-game series with the Yankees, has had back problems off and on for six weeks, according to manager Terry Francona.

"He's done an admirable job of playing through it," Francona said of Ramírez, who came out of Monday's 5-3 loss in the seventh inning, one inning after he was charged with an error for failing to pick up Jorge Posada's single. "I don't want people taking unfair shots at him."

Red Sox internist Lawrence Ronan examined Ramírez yesterday, and the team later announced Ramírez had a strained left oblique (side) muscle, which he aggravated with a swing during his last at-bat Monday. "He's still pretty sore," Francona said.

Eric Hinske played left field in Ramírez's absence and batted ninth. Mike Lowell hit in Ramírez's cleanup spot.

Ramirez hit his 20th home run Tuesday in his first at-bat, struck out in his second, then grounded a single to center in the sixth, jogging slowly to first after wincing in pain.

Ramírez is listed as day to day. He was hitting .479 (45 for 94) with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs in 27 games against the Yankees since the start of the 2006 season. Ramírez has more multihomer games against the Yankees than any other player ever with seven, one more than Carl Yastrzemski and Ken Griffey Jr., according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Ramírez has played in 127 of 133 games, most on the team. He is batting .309 with 9 home runs and 41 RBIs since the All-Star break, but in the last month, he is batting just .253 with 2 home runs and 18 RBIs in 95 at-bats. His home run Tuesday was his first in 71 at-bats.

Meanwhile, X-rays on Bobby Kielty's back were negative and Francona said the outfielder could play in a pinch last night and likely will be available today.

"There was no structural damage," said Francona. "It was all soft tissue."

Kielty has been on anti-inflammatory medication since running into the bullpen fence in his first game with the Red Sox Aug. 19.

Turning Japanese?
There is still no decision on whether the Sox are going to Japan next season, and whether any teams will open the season there next spring is "not a foregone conclusion," said Gene Orza, the No. 2 lawyer for the players' union.

The Sox continue to await the first draft of the 2008 schedule before making a decision on whether they will agree to go. The schedule has been held up, Orza said, for technical reasons.

"Very simply," Orza said, "there is a new computer program that they're having difficulty running properly, mainly a quirk of its newness. It's a technical matter. It's no one's fault. It's a new complicated computer program, which is why we gave [Major League Baseball] another extension. I expect we'll have one by the end of the month."

The Sox do not want to go to Japan to open the season unless they then have the traditional opener on the West Coast, preferably in Seattle or Oakland, Calif. The baseball operations side of the team, from the general manager to the manager to the players, has very little enthusiasm for a trip to Japan. MLB, however, is putting considerable pressure on the team to go because of the marketing benefits of having Daisuke Matsuzaka and to a lesser extent Hideki Okajima on the roster. And Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, a member of MLB's international committee, has long been a proponent of playing games overseas.

Part of the negotiations may involve additional compensation from the Japanese commercial sponsors of the tour to the players on both teams. There are indications the Sox may be seeking $60,000 per player, which would undoubtedly go a long way toward breaking down player resistance. The Devil Rays and Yankees were compensated when they opened the 2003 season in Japan.

The Athletics have been mentioned as the likely opponent for the Sox if they go to Japan. If form holds, the Sox and Athletics would play two games in Japan, although there have been indications that the Yomiuri Giants and Chiba Lotte Marines, the team with which Boston has just entered a working agreement, would like to play exhibitions against the Sox.

"It may not be as chaotic as the metaphor suggests," Orza said, "but the schedule is like a house of cards. You move the queen of diamonds, you move the entire deck. The Red Sox have a right to be concerned about the schedule. We have a right to be concerned. Going to Japan is not a foregone conclusion."

Lester back on bump
Jon Lester, who started Monday in Portland for the Double A Sea Dogs, will return to the Boston rotation and start Sunday afternoon against the Orioles at Fenway Park. The Sox have not yet announced a starter for Saturday, but Julian Tavarez pitched a side session yesterday in preparation for the call. "They haven't told me anything," he said . . . The 10-game hitting streak Lowell took into last night's game was his third this season of 10 or more games. He also has streaks of 11 and 14 games. He was batting .500 (18 for 36) on the current streak, and had two hits Monday, one a bloop single off Yankees phenom Joba Chamberlain. "I think he's the only guy who's made contact off [Chamberlain's] slider," Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan said. "Mike's a good hitter." . . . The Orioles scratched ace lefthander Erik Bedard from his Saturday start against the Red Sox because of a strained muscle in his right side . . . Jim Caple, a columnist on ESPN.com, took a few shots at how zealous Sox fans are, especially the legions who show up when the club is on the road. "No one can stand to be around Red Sox fans anymore," Caple wrote. "And they're everywhere -- a recent USA Today article labeled the Red Sox baseball's new biggest attraction. Forget a fence between the U.S. and Mexico. What we really need is a wall, a moat and a minefield around New England to keep the spoiled citizens of Red Sox Nation from sneaking into the rest of the country and taking over seats in major league ballparks that should go to hard-working local fans. Everywhere the Red Sox play these days turns into a road version of Fenway Park, with Boston fans occasionally drowning out the hometown fans with their 'Let's Go Red Sox!' chants. They were so over the top at a recent game in Seattle, I was surprised the Mariners didn't play 'Sweet Caroline.' Whether this is an inspiring show of team pride by passionate fans or an annoying lack of manners depends on how close you have to actually sit to these people."

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com; material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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