BOSTON – Another leg on the Tour de Manny.
Another stop on the Manny-go-round.
This is what happens when a 96-mph fastball turns to dust, when a ninth-inning rally ends with a thud on Lansdowne Street, when Manny Ramirez turns on a pitch and 24 teammates find themselves at home plate, shimmying together like an old electric table football game.
In a rare postgame speaking engagement – he doesn't often share his thoughts with the public – Ramirez called it "one of the best feelings ever."
The Boston Red Sox have lived on Manny and lived with him, waiver-wired him and shopped him, laughed and sighed, through their cowboy years and idiot years and nonlabeled years. But, mostly, they've put him in the middle of their order and let him be all the Manny he needed to be, because he worked hard and meant no harm and put the kinds of swings on pitches he put on that Frankie Rodriguez fastball early Saturday morning.
Just ask him. He's six days removed from an uneven season by his standards, three weeks removed from a tender oblique, a few hours removed from a night in left field fraught with drama and intrigue, along with one of the memorable home runs in Red Sox history.
"It feels good, man," he said. "Sometimes I can miss three weeks and I still can come and get hits because I am one of the best players in the game. I have confidence in myself, and I know my train doesn't stop there.
"But, I guess, you know, when you don't feel good and you still get hits, that's when you know you are a bad man."
He crossed home plate into the arms of those two dozen of his closest friends, Julio Lugo ahead of him with his arms spread like an airplane, David Ortiz ahead of him with a gigante smile, Rodriguez kind enough to let Ramirez pass at the third-base line before shuffling into the losers' clubhouse.
It was a night straight out of 2004. The music played, the people sang, and then somebody hit a ball well enough to send them all into the streets, breathing hope and stale beer and a 6-3 win.
It was a moment, a situation, an outcome Mike Scioscia had managed against for three days.
The Los Angeles Angels walked Ortiz four times, twice intentionally, once not quite so overtly. They walked Ramirez twice. In two games, they've walked the Red Sox's three-four hitters eight times, lastly Ortiz just ahead of Ramirez in the ninth inning.
Rodriguez's first fastball to Ramirez was low. His second one was intended to be away, but rode middle in.
"He put a beautiful swing on it, oh my god," Red Sox infielder Alex Cora said.
And that was that.
"Obviously, the way David swung the bat at the end of the season, and with Manny coming back from injury, hey, you've got to take your chances," Cora said. "You can run, but you can't hide. You've got to pitch to somebody."
Ramirez didn't leave the batter's box until the ball was out of sight, until the Angels' heads had fallen, until the entirety of Red Sox Nation had itself a good, hard scream.
So, the Red Sox are a win from the American League championship series because they've pitched better than the Angels, because they've swung the bats better than the Angels, because their studs have produced like studs. Ortiz homered into the right-field seats in Game 1, Ramirez into the ozone in Game 2, five runs right there in a series in which the Angels have scored three, all in the same fleeting inning against an imprecise Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The Angels are a loss from another winter of bat-shopping because their guy – Vladimir Guerrero – has two fruitless singles and otherwise hasn't hit the ball beyond the infield lip, because they left 11 men on base, because they didn't pitch well at the start of Game 1 or the end of Game 2. Graver still, Guerrero left the game in the eighth inning – he was due to bat second in the ninth – because of a bruised left shoulder, courtesy of a Manny Delcarmen fastball in the seventh.
Asked if he would play Sunday, when the Angels will gather to duck elimination, Guerrero nodded his head.
"Yes," he said. "I'll try."
Not only were the Angels fighting their own nature to swing at just about everything, along with the danger of going two down in a series where three decides it, but they have this strange, multi-generational postseason losing streak going against the Red Sox.
Before 2002, the most memorable thing the Angels had ever done in October was their go-to-pieces 1986 ALCS against the Red Sox, when Dave Henderson ruined their week. The Red Sox got theirs in that postseason, too, of course.
Since Game 5 of that series, the Angels have lost eight consecutive playoff games to the Red Sox over 21 years, including Wednesday night's failure at the hands of Josh Beckett.
Now they join the Baltimore Orioles (Jeffrey Maier) and Chicago Cubs (Steve Bartman) with their very own meddlesome fan, 17-year-old Danny Vinik, making them play a fourth out in the fifth inning and a 28th out – the one that never came – in the game. Vinik's play, made right in front of horror novelist Stephen King, lacked the impact and the potential for interference of the previous two but still had its place amid the four hours and five minutes of baseball that led to the fastball Ramirez launched.
And, like usual, in those times when all things Red Sox lead to Manny, it is a journey worth watching.
"In that situation," he said, "that guy got me out so many times. But, baseball's like that. Sometimes you get me; sometimes I get you. And I got him at the right time."
- Red Sox