Previous Chapters of The Book of Manny
The 2003 Boston Red Sox were built with one thing in mind: Get Manny Ramirez some help.
After promoting Theo Epstein to General Manager in late November of 2002, and the Red Sox front office gave the young executive an entire offseason to retool, rebuild and reset the Red Sox future. Theo wasted no time in making this team better, and he did it without breaking the bank.
But most importantly, the Red Sox signed a designated hitter recently released by the Minnesota Twins, named David Ortiz.
The offense was now going to revolve around Manny Ramirez, moving away from centering it around Nomar Garciaparra. But the increase in firepower wasn’t a slight to Nomar – it was a final fix to a solution the Red Sox couldn’t figure out in 2002: designated hitter. Cliff Floyd, Carlos Baerga, Jose Offerman, and Manny himself all spent time on the DH Carousel, but nothing truly fit.
Equally as challenging was figuring out who was going to play left field. A similar platoon with Ramirez, Daubach, Floyd, and even Benny Agbayani for 11 games, all played in front of the Green Monster in 2002. The Red Sox had a stability problem on their roster, and Epstein figured out the perfect solution.
By bringing in Ortiz to slot in as the designated hitter, the Red Sox could play Manny Ramirez in left field without worrying about sacrificing a lineup spot for fielding prowess. Playing left field in Fenway is already an adventure, so why not let one guy handle all the balls hit that way and not add to the craziness? Plus, having two solid bats in the lineup was worth more than a single becoming a double with the wrong guy in left.
The acquisitions of Mueller and Walker added consistency to the offense around Manny and Nomar. Walker’s .283 average and Mueller’s batting title-winning .326 were far and away more potent than anyone surrounding the Red Sox two big hitters from the year before.
And who did Bill Mueller beat out for that 2003 batting title? Manny Ramirez and his .325 average. That’s a good signing right there.
Manny’s 2003 season production was similar to the rest of his stellar career, but this time with a supporting cast that actually…. you know, supported him. His 2003 slash-line of .325/.427/.587, with an OPS of 1.014 and OPS+ of 160 might seem like a bit of a regression, and technically it was. But then again, Manny had a team being built around him, just as Boston had promised when they signed him.
After finishing the season in the AL Wild Card spot with a 95-67 record, the Red Sox faced off with the ever-potent Oakland Athletics in the ALDS. Oakland walked off with a 5-4 Game 1 in 12 innings, with Ramirez twice grounding out to strand runners in scoring positions. If Manny pushes either of those batted balls past the middle infielders, it’s a completely different series.
The Red Sox would also lose Game 2, but swept the next two at Fenway to force a decisive Game 5.
Hitting a measly .188 so far in the series, Manny was looking for a moment to help his team out. Trot Nixon had a walk-off in Game 3, and Ortiz a mammoth double in Game 4, and now it just felt like it was Manny’s turn. And he didn’t disappoint…
As Manny touched home plate, he was enveloped by his teammates, but the man he sought out was David Ortiz, who he gave a palpable embrace. Manny had backup, support, and a group of guys with whom he could ride into battle.
Manny’s blast put the Sox up for good, and they’d win the series with a 4-3 victory in Game 5. But a familiar foe was waiting in the ALCS…
The New York Yankees had won three of the last 5 World Series, in consecutive fashion. In that same timespan, the Red Sox had only made the playoffs twice, losing in the 1998 ALDS to Manny’s Cleveland team, and to the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS. To say the Red Sox were going into a David vs. Goliath matchup, would be accurate. But David had some new offensive weapons. Specifically, one named David.
During the regular season, the Yankees had a one-game advantage in their season series, taking 10 of their 19 meetings in 2003. But in the history of the rivalry, Boston had mostly played the role of the little brother, constantly getting pummeled by an older, stronger, smarter foe. Boston has always had an inferiority complex when it comes to New York City, and on the diamond, it was no different.
This series felt different. This series felt personal.
That familial relationship shattered in Game 3 at Fenway Park. The teams had split the first two games at Yankee Stadium, and as the series shifted to Boston, the Red Sox sent Pedro Martinez to the mound. In the top of the fourth inning, after Hideki Matsui’s RBI-double put New York up by a run, Yankee outfielder Karim Garcia stepped up to the plate.
He wouldn’t be there for long.
Pedro sailed a fastball behind Garcia’s head, hitting him in the upper back. Knowing him to be the accurate pitcher he is, Garcia looked to catcher Jason Varitek for an explanation. Pedro got a new ball, and Karim Garcia took first base, as the Yankees bench began to chirp and spill out of their dugout. Pedro responded by pointing to his head and essentially said “If I wanted to hit him in the head, I would have,” which is actually a fair point. Warnings were issued.
As the innings turned to the bottom half, Roger Clemens was met on his way to the mound by the officiating crew, most likely to remind Clemens to not retaliate.
And on a 1-2 count to Manny, Clemens threw a 92 MPH fastball up and about a foot outside of the strikeout, not anywhere near Manny’s head. But don’t tell our hero that. Immediately taking issue with the pitch, Manny stepped in front of home plate and began barking at Clemens. Ramirez and Clemens exchanged some F-bombs before the benches cleared and Manny had to be restrained by Ortiz. The most memorable moment from this brawl, however, is when 72-year-old Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer charged Pedro Martinez, who grabbed the coach’s head and steered him away from himself, ultimately throwing him to the ground.
A brief sidebar: I’ve heard both sides of this argument. “Zimmer shouldn’t have charged the opposing pitcher. That’s bad form.” “Pedro threw an elderly gentleman to the ground in a violent manner. What was a 72-year-old going to do you, Pedro?” The whole situation sucks. It’s not good on either side. Some brawls don’t have a winner.
But this brawl is more about Manny sticking up for his team and making a statement, even if the pitch was nowhere close to being near his head. Manny Ramirez saw a chance to swing the momentum and he took it. The Red Sox still lost Game 3 by one run, but the 2-1 series felt even.
And then we get to Game 7.
Heading into the final game, Manny had been one of the better Red Sox hitters throughout the entire series. Hitting in between Nomar and Ortiz was a big reason for that. Having speed in front of him and power behind him made Manny’s bat a big problem for the Yanks. No longer did he need the longball to do damage. A hard hit single could push Garciaparra from first to third, or even drive him home. With Manny and/or Nomar on base, Papi’s bat becomes louder. This “Big 3” for the Red Sox was solid and scary, a three-headed dragon.
The ALCS Finale was a rematch of the pitching duel headlined in Game 3: Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens. The Red Sox got to Clemens early as Trot Nixon put them up 2-0 with one swing in the second inning. They added more runs on a throwing error by Enrique Wilson and a solo shot by Kevin Millar before Clemens was lifted in the fourth for Mike Mussina.
Heading into the bottom of the 7th, with a shutout underway and after only surrendering three hits, Pedro Martinez allowed the Yankees to get on the board with a two-out solo home run off the bat of Jason Giambi. Martinez finished out the inning, but not before letting two more Yankees get on with singles.
Hindsight is 20/20, and no one has better hindsight than Red Sox Nation.
No other fanbase has been pouring over replays of past defeats trying to orchestrate other universes where they come out on top more than Red Sox fans. Cubs fans, maybe. But that’s another story…
The first Red Sox batter of the seventh inning was our hero. On the bump for the Yankees was Jeff Nelson, who was acquired at the deadline, and had thrown 2.1 innings in this series, giving up two runs on four hits, striking out one. One of those two runs was Manny Ramirez in Game 1. In their first encounter, Nelson missed badly on two straight pitches, first outside, and then inside, en route to a 3-1 count. Manny, in the driver’s seat, was looking for a two-seam fastball on the inside corner, guessed right, and drove the ball to right field. Kevin Millar single brought Manny in from second, adding to the Red Sox 5-0 lead in their eventual 5-2 Game 1 victory.
In Game 7, a similar dance unfolded. Nelson opened up with two misses, leaving the count 2-0. Looking for a fastball, Manny took the next pitch. Nelson misses low and outside, not getting the call from the home plate umpire. Like their first meeting, Nelson came back inside and caught the plate, as Manny watched the count grow to 3-1. Once again, Manny was looking for a two-seam fastball on the inside corner. History told him that Nelson will go back to that same spot. Instead, Nelson’s pitch caught a lot of the plate’s outside edge. Manny is forced to extend his hands, open his hips and attempt to loft the ball into the outfield.
Manny topped it and sent a slow chopper to third. Cleveland teammate of Ramirez, Enrique Wilson, threw him out by a step.
David Wells replaced Nelson, and immediately gave up a home run to Ortiz, giving the Red Sox a 5-2 lead. If Manny Ramirez was on base, the Sox would have gone up by four runs, potentially staving off the Pedro Martinez collapse in the following inning, and then Aaron Boone’s home run off Tim Wakefield doesn’t happen. And potentially, the Red Sox are able to topple the Florida Marlins in the 2003 World Series. Manny Ramirez wins his first ring, in the first season where he’s truly the centerpiece of the Red Sox offense.
But hindsight is 20/20. David Ortiz’s home run was only a solo shot, and the Yankees lost to the Marlins in 2003. And Manny Ramirez was left thinking that next time, he might not miss that fastball…
Next Up in The Book of Manny – The Storm Before the Storm: The 2004 Offseason
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