When Nomar Garciaparra returned to Fenway Park last season as a member of the Oakland Athletics, the packed house gave him a resounding ovation. "Welcome Back!" signs were posted on the stadium’s green walls and held by fans with bittersweet feelings. He had an incredible history with the franchise, a history that makes him a compelling argument for the Hall of Fame.
That emotional tip of the cap brought tears to my eyes. It was a return to remember. Manny Ramirez 's didn’t warrant the same reaction, but it was just as memorable.
Both players had a similar history with Boston. They were franchise players. Yet, they had their differences. One was respected throughout his tenure. The other was also beloved, but faced far more scrutiny. All was forgiven in Nomar’s return. He left Boston on uneven terms, but he was the kind of player fans couldn’t stay made at. He was too nice, too likable, too important to their success for boos to reign down from the rafters.
Ramirez was these three things as well. But he didn’t try in his final days. He jogged down to first on groundballs. Sure-fire doubles were singles. And he was far more laid back fielding his position than the Red Sox and their fans were accustomed.
There was a time when his antics were hilarious. Some hilarity was justified. He would walk into the Green Monster to go to the bathroom during pitching changes and breaks in innings. He was seen massaging Julian Tavarez’s head in the dugout once. He pointed to fans in a kid-like manner. He clumsily went after flyballs. And he caused reporters to have laughing attacks in pre- and postgame interviews.
But Manny being Manny got old. The fans and the media turned on him, and rightfully so. No matter how much he had meant to their team, no matter how prolific he was, the lack of hustle and motivation earned him a one-way ticket out of Boston.
Upon his departure to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team Boston faced today, I immediately felt sad. That soon turned bittersweet. I was on the fence. So was the Fenway crowd on this day. When Ramirez took batting practice, the reaction was a mixed bag. When his name was announced by the public address announcer as he strode to the plate, both boos and cheers consumed the historic stadium as I expected.
Twenty-two-year-old Felix Doubront , making his major league debut, retired Ramirez twice. He retired many other Dodgers in his first start, playing with a ton of poise despite allowing a crooked number here and there.
His offense spotted him three first inning runs. Two came on a towering home-run to dead center by David Ortiz which tied him with Ramirez with 254 homers as a member of the Red Sox.
J.D. Drew, who not surprisingly injured himself later in the contest, slugged a opposite field solo-shot for the third run, watching it barely climb over the wall to give Doubront insurance that would last until the Dodgers put together three runs in the third.
The game was tied entering the bottom of the fifth as Doubront settled down to toss two scoreless frames behind his fastball/curveball combo that made him such a heralded prospect. Boston’s bats thanked him for his gritty performance in a big way in their half of the frame, tagging starter Carlos Monasterios and then reliever Ramon Troncoso to break the game wide open.
The inning went like this: Dustin Pedroia single, Ortiz walk, Kevin Youkilis RBI-double, Joe Torre’s slow walk to the mound and the pitching change that ensued, a two-run single by Darnell McDonald, a two-run blast by Adrian Beltre on one knee that landed on Landsdowne Street beyond the Green Monster, a double by a slimmed Jason Varitek, a single by Mike Cameron, and an errant fastball that plunked Daniel Nava. Eight straight Red Sox reached and four runs were scored.
A fifth crossed the plate on a Pedroia sacrifice fly later in the frame. And with this offensive clinic, Doubront was in line for the win.
A victorious debut became very likely as excellent relief followed after his exit in the sixth inning. The advantage was 10-4 entering the ninth. Ramirez was due up sixth in the inning, and thanks to a leadoff homer by Garrett Anderson as well as two one-out singles, he strode to the plate with two out against flamethrower Daniel Bard.
He watched as strike three curved past in the seventh, and with a chance to pull his Dodgers within a run in the ninth, found himself down two strikes once more. A slider had missed for ball-three after four straight fastballs, and Ramirez seemed to be guessing Bard would mix it up and try to fire 98 past him. At least that’s what it appeared, considering the slider that ensued froze the Hall of Fame slugger, ending the game.
The fans cheered raucously as the Red Sox notched their 40th win and Doubront’s first. Ramirez walked briskly, helmet in hand back to the dugout. He was on the other side. It was a weird feeling. Why? Manny didn’t try in his final days in Boston, but he left a forgiving fan-base with so many incredible memories.
With the Red Sox, he etched his name in stone as one of their franchise’s best players and, in my opinion, one of the top ten hitters of all-time.
His attitude was unforgivable at times, but looking back at his laid-back play, effortless stroke, and downright silliness, I applauded from my living room as he walked to the plate during that second inning, just as thousands did filling Fenway’s seats, acknowledging the greatness that was the baggy-jerseyed, dreadlocked, and incredibly feared Manny Ramirez.
“I haven’t been right all year. 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.” -Ramirez after hitting a game-winning homer in the 2007 ALCS against the Anaheim Angels.