March 13, 2010

Boston's chances now seem few when they once were Manny

— BOSTON — Blame it on Manny.

The Red Sox can't hit Tampa Bay's pitching, can't score runs, can't win games that now matter most. One more loss and say goodbye to baseball's old champions and welcome the new ones, whoever they might be.

Blame it on Manny. Ramirez, that is. Manny Delcarmen came out of the bullpen Tuesday night and did nothing to stop the bleeding, but he's just a small part to the bigger picture.

Blame it on Manny because he could have helped the cause in October. Maybe not the antidote to what has been ailing David Ortiz, but not having Manny behind him in the batting order hurts just as much as his healing wrist.

Ortiz earned his nickname Big Papi by carrying the Red Sox on his big back in 2004. Nothing was over until the Fat Man swings, to paraphrase some of the T-shirts seen at Fenway the year after the World Series was won.

Try as he might, Dustin Pedroia hasn't the strength to carry his teammates by himself.

Yes, Big Papi broke out of his 0-for-13 slump with a ringing triple to right field to start the home seventh.

He scored on Kevin Youkilis' groundout, cutting Tampa's lead to 11-2.

Blame it on the dog in Manny, who quit on his teammates because the owners and management wouldn't give him his proper respect. Meaning more money. He got spit out like spoiled meat, and the taste does linger. He led the Los Angeles Dodgers to the postseason, and he has laid-back LA-LA land at his feet.

The Dodgers gave him his get-out-of-jail card for free, but Red Sox Nation is still paying.

Tampa Bay beat the Red Sox 13-4 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. Most of the sellout crowd had left by the eighth inning. Let it be said they didn't turn on their team like Patriots fans turned on their former heroes when the Miami Dolphins came to Foxborough and won last month.

Trot Nixon ran in from right field before the game to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, bringing the crowd to its feet when they saw him in his No. 7. Who knew that would be the loudest and most sustained applause of the night?

Nixon could have been Pedroia's older brother, with their similar approach of playing busted-nose baseball. His appearance and Twisted Sister's ''We're Not Gonna Take It'' playing over the ballpark's sound system set the tone. Football can do its chest-beating in public, but baseball has its ways.

Then Carlos Pena hit his two-run homer off Tim Wakefield. Evan Longoria hit another and unlike the night before when Tampa Bay hit Jon Lester early and hard, the Fenway crowd didn't even groan. It was Game 3 all over again, but worse.

You want to draw comparisons to 2007 and 2004 when the Red Sox were in deep and deeper holes. Tuesday night had the feel of Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS when Wakefield came out of the bullpen to eat up innings and absorb the pounding from Yankees hitters.

The Red Sox lost that night, 19-8, before winning the next four and rolling on to the World Series. Last October, Wakefield was part of the loss in Cleveland that put the Red Sox one game from elimination. Then came three straight wins and a date with the Colorado Rockies.

In 2004, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona was quietly defiant, sticking to the mantra of win the next game. Tuesday night he said something else.

''We've had a difficult time. We have not had an answer to a lot of things,'' Francona said.

He doesn't have Manny, who's gone and publicly forgotten by the organization. They may not have won and reached the playoffs with him and his dog act. They may not win without him.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

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