Manny Being Manny

BOSTON—The highest complement that can be paid a hitter is to say he could roll out of bed and hit .300. Manny Ramirez has proven over the last two days he might actually be able to do it.

Ramirez, who missed 24 games with a strained left oblique before returning Tuesday, went 3-for-3 with a walk in four plate appearances Wednesday as the Red Sox moved closer to winning the AL East with an 11-6 victory over the Athletics in front of a sellout crowd of 36,570 at Fenway Park.

Terry Francona hasn't always been the biggest fan of Ramirez, but the Sox skipper couldn't help but marvel at how easily Ramirez resumed his approach and success at the plate. Ramirez was 1-for-2 with a walk in his return Tuesday.

"It's like in spring training—the first few days of spring training, you'll never see him pull a ball," Francona said. "He stays on the ball. He's such a smart hitter and disciplined hitter that he's going to get his at-bats and he's going to get himself in a position where all of a sudden they start throwing those pitches [and] he's going to start launching them.

"But it's amazing how he does that where he stays inside balls…where he doesn't get into bad habits."

Ramirez, who was batting second for the second straight game, singled in each of his first three at-bats and walked in the sixth, after which he was replaced by pinch-runner Brandon Moss. Ramirez showed no signs of discomfort running the bases as he scored twice and twice advanced two bases on singles by David Ortiz.

With 20 homers and 87 RBI and four games left to play, Ramirez' streak of nine straight seasons with at least 30 homers and 100 RBI is almost assuredly over. But he's hitting .298 and can finish at .300 or better for the 11th time in 14 big league seasons.

"He's just a special player, he really is," said Mike Lowell, who had five RBI to break the Sox' single-season record for RBI by a third baseman (116, four more than Butch Hobson had in 1978).

The Sox scored four times in the sixth and twice in the seventh to finally shake the Athletics, who came back from deficits of 3-1 and 5-4 to tie the game heading into the sixth. Jon Lester struck out a season-high nine but lasted just 4 1/3 innings in what was likely his final appearance of the season. He is only the second Sox starter since 1957 to record at least nine strikeouts in less than five innings.

The Sox' magic number to win the AL East is two. A win tonight—with ace Josh Beckett on the mound—coupled with a Yankees loss to the Devil Rays will give the Sox their first AL East crown since 1995.

If the Sox win the AL East, they'll almost certainly face the Angels in the first round. The Sox and the Indians are tied for the league's best record (94-68), but the Sox cannot face the division rival Yankees in the first round. The Angels have dropped three in a row to fall to 92-67. The Sox win any tiebreaker with the Angels and Indians due to winning the season series against both teams (the Sox were 6-4 against the Angels and 5-2 against the Indians).


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.

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