CLEVELAND – If this American League championship series becomes too much to bear for the Boston Red Sox, if this deficit is too large and these Cleveland Indians too polished for their weary baseball psyches, it won't be Manny Ramirez's head that fails them.
Manny's psyche is just fine.
"If it doesn't happen, who cares?" Ramirez said Wednesday afternoon. "There's always next year. It's not like it's the end of the world."
Presumably, this will not be the precise sentiment with which Terry Francona sends his men onto Jacobs Field for Game 5. The organization and its city stowed the wait-'til-next-year routine with the 2004 Idiots.
The 24 guys around him. His manager. His owner. The people who carve off a bit of paycheck to squeeze into those old, narrow box seats and chant his name every night.
They probably care.
The Indians, I'm guessing, care.
There are, however, two riders that need to be attached to Ramirez's flippancy.
He does not speak for the Red Sox clubhouse or the Red Sox organization. He goes years without speaking publicly at all, a practice the Red Sox might now consider encouraging.
And he will show up with his bat and his act at game time Thursday, hitting as though he cares.
As usual, there is an honest innocence to Ramirez and his merry methods, along the lines of his arms-in-the-air, stroll-to-first observance of Tuesday night's home run, a home run viewed initially as probably meaningless, viewed later as entirely meaningless.
Choosing to ignore those details, Ramirez show-timed the contact, gloated the trajectory, and finally leapt into David Ortiz's arms.
It was quite a show from four runs back, and ultimately two games back.
Kelly Shoppach, the Indians' catcher at the time and once a teammate of Ramirez's in Boston, said he admonished Ramirez then and there.
"I told him to get going, like I would anyone," he said. "I love Manny. He's a great guy. But don't do that to us. Everyone knows he's a great player, but you don't have to show it. We don't have guys who do that."
Jensen Lewis, who let go of the fastball that eventually landed about 400 feet behind him, smiled and said, "If he's going to celebrate one run like that, that's up to him."
No matter. The Indians don't seem to have taken any real offense. They'll gladly live with Ramirez's peculiarities for a few days and leave the rest of the year to the Red Sox. Given the situation and the series' shifting momentum, many of the Indians were in fact amused by the antic.
"Man," Ramirez said, "I'm just happy to do something special like that. I'm not trying to show up anybody. If someone strikes me out and shows me up, I like that. It's all good. There's no hard feelings."
Good for him. It's what the Red Sox have left. That, and Josh Beckett.
They have lost three in a row at a bad time to do it, and in doing so have had three consecutive starters fail to get out of the fifth inning for the first time this season. Now there are suspicions Beckett might not be in optimum health, though few players in October are, and you wouldn't know it by the way he pitched in the playoffs.
A stroll through the Red Sox clubhouse on the workout day found outward buoyancy, belief in Beckett, praise for the Indians, and a tireless reluctance to lean too hard on anything '04 related.
These aren't those Red Sox, not entirely. And, should the series go that far, the Indians have no plans to start Kevin Brown in Game 7.
These Red Sox haven't gotten a big hit since early in Game 2. These Red Sox have stood around and watched two seven-run innings. They've been outpitched since the moment Rafael Perez walked off the mound Saturday. And they're running out of reliable relievers.
So, maybe Manny simply sensed how this thing is going. Maybe he tried to portray looseness and had it come out wrong. The Red Sox don't read as a team that could be talked out of the playoffs easily, not with Beckett and Curt Schilling coming, not when they've already mauled C.C. Sabathia once, not when one win gets them back to Fenway Park.
"We're just thinking about Thursday," Ramirez said. "Let's see what the future is going to bring."
Whatever comes, Ramirez is right, it is not the end of the world. Just, potentially, the end of a season, whatever that means to him. There'll be others.
"Why panic?" he said. "If we don't do it, we'll come back next year and try again."
Yeah, Manny's good to go.
- Red Sox