The name of the ballpark has changed, but Manny Ramirez still loves returning to his old stomping grounds in Cleveland.
He and his Boston Red Sox certainly aren’t welcome visitors.
One night after Ramirez’s ninth-inning home run capped another Boston comeback against Cleveland, the Red Sox seek their fifth straight win against the Indians dating back to last year’s ALCS when the teams’ brief series concludes Tuesday at Progressive Field.
Ramirez played the first eight years of his career with the Indians before signing an eight-year, $160 million free agent deal with the Red Sox before the 2001 season.
In 30 games as a visitor in Cleveland since then - including last year’s playoff series - Ramirez is hitting .370 with 11 home runs and 29 RBIs. In his last five visits, he’s 10-for-20 with four homers and eight RBIs.
That includes Monday’s ninth-inning two-run home run, a shot off Indians closer Joe Borowski that broke a 4-4 tie and gave Boston a 6-4 win. The Red Sox (8-6) trailed 4-1 entering the seventh inning and 4-3 going into the ninth, but erased the deficits, just as they did when they came back from a 3-1 hole in the ALCS last season en route to their World Series title.
“Manny took such a pretty swing,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
Ramirez is just 3-for-16 in his career against Paul Byrd, who will start Tuesday for Cleveland (5-8). But Byrd (0-2, 11.05 ERA), who won Game 4 of the ALCS against the Red Sox, has plenty of his own problems to solve after struggling in his first two starts of 2008.
In his last start, he allowed six runs and three home runs in three innings of a 9-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. But he won’t blame his poor start on his name’s inclusion in the Mitchell Report in the offseason.
“It’s been a distraction at times when I’m not on the mound, but it hasn’t really caused me to lose concentration,” Byrd said. “My head’s pretty clear. I just haven’t had my command at all and I haven’t had very good stuff. To pitch up here, you have to have one of the two, and I have neither right now.”
He’ll be opposed by Boston’s Tim Wakefield, just as he was in Game 4 last year. Wakefield (1-0, 3.27) has walked eight in 11 innings this year - including five in five innings against Detroit last week - but has still allowed only four earned runs.
Boston’s 41-year-old knuckleballer was tagged by the Indians in the playoffs last year, allowing five runs in the fifth after four shutout innings. Including postseason, he has a 5.36 career ERA against Cleveland, though slugger Travis Hafner is 0-for-10 with four strikeouts in his career against Wakefield.
Hafner had a two-run single Monday to give the Indians a 4-1 lead, but Cleveland’s bullpen faltered. Borowski, who had a 5.07 ERA and blew eight saves as the Indians’ closer last year, has now blown two straight. He said he may have his arm examined as he hopes to explain a loss of velocity.
“I just felt like I had nothing, like I was throwing through water,” Borowski said. “It’s like I’m stuck in one gear. I had no extra gear. Not only that, I couldn’t locate.”
Boston DH David Ortiz had been dealing with similar struggles, entering Monday’s game just 3-for-43, but he went 2-for-5 Tuesday. His bloop single in the ninth extended the inning for Ramirez.
Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a home run, giving him three straight multi-hit games. He also went 14-for-28 in the ALCS last year.