Don't worry, be Manny

Dan Wetzel

CLEVELAND – Manny Ramirez angered baseball's rub-some-dirt-on-it establishment (again) Tuesday night by standing at home plate, arms stretched into the air and admiring a 451-foot home run he hit. Since it only cut the Cleveland Indians' lead to 7-3, it was a rather ridiculous spectacle but completely within character of the dizzy Boston Red Sox slugger.

Wednesday afternoon Ramirez held a rare news conference and did one better, shrugging off not only the Red Sox's 3-1 American League championship series deficit but also questioning the importance of the entire pursuit.

"Why panic?" Ramirez said. "If we don't do it, we'll come back next year and try again. If it doesn't happen, who cares? There's always next year. It's not the end of the world."

Who cares? Oh, boy. Someone might want to send some precautionary medical attention to Joe Buck's room at the Holiday Inn.

Ramirez again is the hot button personality of October, his baggy pants, braided hair and aloof personality drawing as much attention as his monster home runs and clutch RBI. For all the talk about his standing at the plate Tuesday, it wasn't like he was pointing at the Indians or egging on the fans.

He was just celebrating his greatness. Or something like that. Really, who knows what goes through this guy's mind?

"Man, I'm just happy to do something special like that," Ramirez said. "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 (are) no hard feelings."

The Indians didn't throw at him when he came up in the eighth, either because they didn't care or they didn't want to awaken the Red Sox.

It was a wise play. The reason Boston is on the brink of elimination is not because of the left fielder they always are shopping around – GM Theo Epstein's latest effort to pawn him off came last winter to the Los Angeles Dodgers – but the players they recently brought in.

Manny isn't the one being paid $15 million per year to sit out Game 5, the most important game of the season, because of ineffectiveness. That's J.D. Drew.

Manny isn't the one brought in to shore up the bullpen, only to implode in what should have been the calmest of relief appearances. That's Eric Gagne.

Manny isn't the $103 million pitching investment who has fallen apart in the last six weeks, might be on suicide watch and probably would be replaced as a Game 7 starter if the series ever got that far. That's Daisuke Matsuzaka.

If the Red Sox lose, despite all the good work he has done building up the franchise's farm system, Epstein whiffed mightily in player acquisitions. His big names and big contracts couldn't measure up athletically or mentally.

Boston isn't the easiest place to play. The fans are beyond fervent and the media massive (a good 60 reporters crowded around Ramirez on Wednesday).

You have to figure out a way to cope, to survive, to thrive. Drew, Dice-K and Gagne walked around the Sox clubhouse Wednesday with great purpose and furrowed faces. And if they had spoken with reporters, it stands to reason they would have said what good baseball people are supposed to say.

But none of them are doing anything they are supposed to do. All of them are emotional wrecks. It all would have been lip service.

Manny, meanwhile, is the one hitting .429 in the playoffs with four home runs (including a series walk-off) and 11 RBI, all while assuring that David Ortiz gets pitches to hit.

So he says he doesn't care. So he does foolish, ill-timed home-run trots. So he screwed around in the outfield during the team's practice session Wednesday. But when he got into the batter's box he crushed balls all over Jacobs Field, at one point sending balls over the fence on five consecutive swings.

He raised his hands in glory at the end of that, too. A celebration of nothing with no one.

That's Manny: See ball, hit ball. All the rest is someone else's problem.

The thing is, he represents so much of what the game has become – an ultra-diverse melting pot of cultures not found since Noah's Ark set sail.

After Monday's Game 3 loss, three of the last people in the Red Sox clubhouse were Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and Ortiz.

The Japanese pitcher silently sat for nearly an hour, staring into his locker, trying to deal with a crushing defeat. The white pitcher from Texas sat on a couch drinking beer and watching the NLCS, half studying the Rockies hitters, half telling jokes. The big Dominican slugger sprawled out on a couch, put his feet up on a small table and kept laughing about how a line drive had almost hit him in the most inopportune spot on his body.

Manny, for his part, was long gone. And if you really needed to find him, his hotel room probably would not be the first place you'd look.

This is the game in 2007. There isn't another workplace in the world all these different people would be together. And that's why whatever used to pass for "baseball culture" is a ridiculous concept today.

"You know, you can't force a personality on teams," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "They are the way they are. We have some guys down there that are rather serious and quiet, and the rest of the guys that are the way they are. So as long as they stay consistent in their approach, that's probably the best thing."

If Boston is going to make another magical climb, they'll need the flaky, flamboyant guy insulting purists. The slugger they have tried to be rid of will have to lead them back, one big swing at a time.

Because we know all those dutiful, say-nothing guys they brought in sure aren't going to help any.