BOSTON — Manny Ramirez looked at the thinned-out group of reporters looking for pre-game chatter. He dropped no verbal bombs, instead waving sarcastically and disappearing behind the clubhouse curtain.
The slugger has become like Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight". Your eyes are glued to the man, whether you think he's crazy, frustrating or brilliant. Manny is a must-watch character.
But in reality, Ramirez isn't the Joker. He's far from deranged.
You just wish his drawn-out movie would end already. Trade him or keep him.
If the matter was resolved, it'd be easier for the Red Sox to concentrate on the pennant race, which isn't exactly swinging in Boston's favor. Not after last night's 7-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels in front of 37,830 at Fenway Park. The Red Sox have now lost six of seven meetings with the Halos this season.
While Ramirez's situation plays out, his team remains in limbo. The Red Sox (61-46) are still a game back of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays (61-44) in the American League East and lead the Wild Card race by two games over the third-place New York Yankees (58-47).
"It would've been nice to pick up one," outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury said after he was told that both the Rays and Yankees lost. "You know, I wasn't aware of the scoreboard during the game, but if that's the case, then it's too bad."
The Red Sox, now 4-6 since the All-Star break, are struggling to pull ahead.
So how can they build momentum? A peeved Kevin Youkilis has an answer.
"Winning," he said. "Winning is always big momentum. You have to win."
That's the goal, obviously. And Ramirez, at least in the short term, will help the Red Sox win.
Last night, he went 2 for 5 with a two-RBI single in the fourth inning and a solo home run over the Green Monster in the ninth. He was deadly. Still, it wasn't enough to save Boston, which couldn't overcome a six-run sixth inning. Starter Daisuke Matsuzaka (5 IP, 7 hits, six runs, 6 earned) gave up five of those runs, the last three coming on a monstrous Torii Hunter homer.
"I thought he was throwing the ball pretty well," manager Terry Francona said. "That happened in a hurry. Then he leaves the last pitch up to Hunter and that's an exclamation point on the inning."
Matsuzaka falls to 11-2. More importantly, the Red Sox gained no ground on their rivals.
"They have tremendous starting pitching, a very good bullpen, a lot of speed, they catch the ball very well," Francona said of the Angels, emptying his mental drawer of platitudes. "Hopefully tomorrow I won't be naming those things and we'll end up winning."
"I think it still comes down to us," catcher Jason Varitek said. "When we execute and do things we can do, we're a good team. (The Angels have) executed all the little things right now."
As the Red Sox search for the little things, Ramirez's future hangs in the balance.
Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline is approaching. Once again, the rumors heated up.
Monday, the Providence Journal reported that the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers have spoken to Boston about Ramirez.
"At this point, there's no interest on our part," Philadelphia Phillies general manager Pat Gillick then told the New York Times. "We have no place to play the guy."
Once again, the trade flames are about to be doused. We think.
No matter what happens to Ramirez, the Red Sox need to gain ground. With or without him in the lineup, the Rays and Yankees aren't going away. Neither are the rabid fans, who are expecting — at the bare minimum — a return trip to the playoffs.
As Youkilis said bluntly, "you have to win."
No matter how crazy Ramirez makes things.
Alan Siegel is a sports writer at The Eagle-Tribune. E-mail him at ASiegel@eagletribune.com.