By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2007
CLEVELAND, Oct. 17 -- There was only one person in the Boston Red Sox' clubhouse who had the stature, the depth of experience and the breadth of human understanding to put the team's plight in proper perspective. So, Manny Ramirez, your team trails the Cleveland Indians, three games to one, in the American League Championship Series entering Thursday night's Game 5 -- what does it all mean? And while we're at it, what was the deal with the King of the World home run pose in Game 4, with your team trailing by four runs?
Ninety-nine days out of a hundred, it would be the stuff of fantasy, a joke, to imagine Ramirez, the enigmatic, media-shy left fielder, answering any such questions.
But on Wednesday, for reasons known only to himself, Ramirez decided to speak to the media before the Red Sox' optional workout at Jacobs Field. And, well, it must comfort the denizens of Red Sox Nation -- who might be all worked up about facing elimination -- to hear Ramirez's take, which can be boiled down to one thought: It doesn't matter if the Red Sox win or lose.
"Why should we panic?" Ramirez said. " . . . We're just going to go play the game, and move on. If it doesn't happen, so who cares? There's always next year. It's not like the end of the world or something."
Depending upon one's interpretation, Ramirez's comments represent either a refreshingly candid, nihilistic view of something -- a mere game, after all -- to which people attach far too much significance, or the blissfully ignorant rantings of a man-child who simply can't appreciate the notion that some people do, in fact, care about the outcome.
In other words, Manny being Manny? Or Manny being Nietzsche?
For the opposing, more conventional viewpoint to Ramirez's, there was Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, saying: "The good thing is we still have a chance, and that chance starts [Thursday]. We're still playing baseball. But we can only worry about winning" on Thursday.
The Red Sox take some comfort in the fact they are sending ace Josh Beckett to the mound in Game 5 to face Indians left-hander C.C. Sabathia in a rematch of Game 1, which the Red Sox won, 10-3. If the Red Sox could pick any pitcher in baseball for this start, it would likely be Beckett, who has a 1.87 career ERA in the postseason, with three shutouts in seven starts.
In the 2003 NLCS, Beckett's Florida Marlins faced a similar 3-1 deficit to the Chicago Cubs entering Game 5. Beckett threw a two-hit shutout while striking out 11, the first of three straight wins that sent the Marlins to the World Series.
Eight other members of the Red Sox, including Ramirez, have an even greater comeback experience upon which to draw inspiration. In 2004, the Red Sox famously fought back from a 3-0 deficit to the New York Yankees in the ALCS, winning four straight games and becoming the first team in history to survive the most dire playoff scenario.
"Every year is different. Shoot, every inning in every game is different," Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said, acknowledging the importance of the 2004 history. "But I think you certainly try to draw upon experiences and draw positives wherever you can. That's our responsibility."
Ramirez, of course, had a different view of whether there was inspiration to be drawn from the success of the 2004 team. "We're not thinking that much about '04," he said. "We're just going to think about Thursday, and move on. We'll go have fun and play the game like we've played all year."
The three straight losses have exposed the Red Sox' biggest weakness, and by contrast, highlighted one of the Indians' greatest strengths -- the teams' respective bullpens. In two of their three wins, the Indians have broken the game open with seven-run innings that occurred when the Red Sox' bullpen failed to contain a fire.
In Game 4, that was Red Sox reliever Manny Delcarmen, taking over for Tim Wakefield -- the third straight game in which the Red Sox turned to their bullpen in the fifth inning -- and immediately surrendering a three-run homer to Jhonny Peralta to turn a 3-0 game into a 6-0 one.
"Yeah, it's disappointing," Francona said. "That's twice now we haven't been able to put out the fire quickly enough. That was the only inning they scored, but we ended up fighting uphill because we couldn't put it out."
Meantime, the Indians have been getting exceptional relief from the trio of left-hander Rafael Perez and right-handers Rafael Betancourt and Jensen Lewis, all of whom have demonstrated the ability to pitch multiple innings and retire batters on both sides of the plate.
"The other team is pitching great," Ramirez said. "The other side, those guys are here for a reason."
The "other team," the "other side" -- that would be the Indians, Manny, the team that employed you from 1993 to 2000, and the team that now is one victory from ending the Red Sox' season and gaining a date in the World Series to face the Colorado Rockies.
Oh, and Manny -- about that home run pose in the sixth inning of Game 4, with the Red Sox still trailing by four runs? What was that all about?
"Man, I'm just happy to do something special like that," Ramirez said. "I'm not trying to show up anybody out there. I'm just trying to go have fun. If somebody strikes me out and shows me up, that's part of the game. I love it."