Manny back in lineup against Yankees
Slugger returns amidst controversy after missing two games
BOSTON -- With controversy swirling in the air -- as it often does around Manny Ramirez -- the Red Sox's left fielder pronounced himself fit to play on Saturday after missing the past two games with right knee soreness.
"Don't even worry, guys; I'm not talking, I'm playing," said Ramirez, flanked by his young son. "That's it. You see my name in the lineup?"
Yes, Ramirez was back in the cleanup hole, reunited with fellow star run producer David Ortiz, who returned from a seven-week absence on Friday.
From the time Ramirez had to ask out of the lineup on Wednesday in Seattle to the moment manager Terry Francona had to scratch him on Friday against the Yankees, it was clear there was some kind of disconnect between the player and the club.
The Red Sox still had very little to say about what exactly was ailing Ramirez, other than to say that an MRI taken on Friday on both knees came back negative.
"I think he feels it," said Francona. "He's fine to play."
When public-address announcer Carl Beane announced Ramirez's name during pregame introduction, there were more boos than cheers, which was an unusual occurrence for a player who has been wildly popular with the fans during most of his stay with the Red Sox.
When he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat in the first inning, there was a smattering of boos. Ramirez, not showing any ill effects from the injury, hit a fielder's-choice RBI grounder to short and hustled down the first-base line to avoid an inning-ending double play. Ramirez finished his day going 0-for-4 in the Red Sox's 10-3 loss to the Yankees on Saturday.
Multiple media outlets reported that the Red Sox were contemplating disciplinary action -- perhaps even a suspension -- if Ramirez again made himself unavailable on Saturday.
Francona chose not to confirm or deny those reports, simply citing that this was another one of those "bumps in the road" the Sox have had with Ramirez during his eight years in Boston. Ownership took a similar path.
"We don't like to talk about internal issues publicly, but I presume it's solved, and he's in the lineup and he's playing today," said Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, who, along with principal owner John W. Henry, general manager Theo Epstein and Francona, met with Ramirez on Friday.
"We certainly are aware of what's going on and gave our two cents," continued Werner. "But in the end, this is an internal matter with Theo and Terry to handle. [I'm] happy to see Manny back in the lineup today."
Dating back to 2007 and even earlier this year, Francona spoke multiple times about how much Ramirez had improved at communicating with him regarding injuries and other matters. Did the unpredictable cleanup man take a step back in that regard this week?
"There were some misunderstandings this week," said Francona. "There's no way to get around that. It doesn't mean he's a bad person. We expect a lot. When things don't go right, we try to make them right. That's kind of how I feel about it."
Though there was still great mystery when the clubhouse opened a little more than three hours before Saturday's game over Ramirez's status -- and no lineup had been posted by that point -- Francona said he actually learned that the right-handed hitter would start by the time he left his office on Friday night.
"We had some conversations last night," Francona said. "One thing leads to another. Just wanted to talk some through some things, and make sure we're always on the same page like we do with everybody. Some of that was last night."
The issue hanging over the whole situation is Ramirez's contract status. The Red Sox hold $20 million options on Ramirez for 2009 and '10. Ramirez expressed to the Boston Herald the day of the All-Star Game that he wished ownership would be more straightforward with him on his situation. Henry reacted angrily to those comments.
The contract situation isn't likely to be touched until November. Is Francona confident that Ramirez is on board for the rest of 2008?
"You know what, we have run into bumps in the road [with Ramirez] ever since I've been here," Francona said. "There's been some before I've been here. The result, two of the times, has been a World Series ring. As a team, sometimes, you fight through things, sometimes you work through things. It's not always perfect. But how you get to the end is what counts, and that's what we're trying to do. It's not always perfect.
"Again, sometimes ... the idea is to get better. When you go through some times that maybe aren't perfect, how you come through that is what's ultimately important. I'm hopeful that will be the same way this time."
It has been a long weekend for Francona, who had to take his 14-year-old daughter to the airport at 5 a.m. ET on Saturday, and the skipper admitted he hadn't had a wink of sleep during his pregame media session.
"She's not the best packer in the world; she's not the most responsible packer I've ever seen," Francona quipped. "Then [I] had to check her in because she's not old enough. I told her, 'It's quarter to six. You've got a lot of nerve. I'm trying to get Manny Ramirez in the lineup and you've got a lot of nerve being a 14-year-old.'"
That was the perfect transition for a reporter to ask Francona who was tougher to deal with -- his 14-year-old daughter or Ramirez.
The manager laughed and smiled, but he chose not to give that question a straight answer.
"I plead the eighth or whatever," Francona said. "Seventh, eighth, ninth, whatever."
Or the fifth. But of most importance to the Red Sox on Saturday -- Ramirez was back in there and hitting fourth against the Yankees.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.