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Manny Becoming Manny

It was just another pop foul, but Manny’s career must have flashed before his eyes.

With the Red Sox trailing, 3-2, in Game 2 against the Angels, Manny was up with Dustin Pedroia representing the tying run ninety feet away. His partner in crime, David Ortiz (aka Senor Octubre), had been intentionally walked. The Angels wanted Manny. In the heyday of this prolific tandem, a Papi free-pass was about the only thing that could make Manny’s blood boil. Little else could evoke such a palpable sense of anger and disdain from the goofy and benign slugger. In the heyday, the instant four fingers were held up from the dugout, Manny was simultaneously “locked in”. You could always feel it; feel the Manny-brainwaves buzzing: You serious? You want Manny?? I’m one of the best hitters in the history of the game! And you want me!? You loco?? More often than not Manny would step to the plate, peering down the line at Papi, and hit the first good pitch he saw square on the seams. And it would usually go far, very far.

This was the case again in the fifth inning of Game 2; Mike Scioscia had decided he’d seen enough of Ortiz beating his club, and concluded he’d rather take his chances with Manny. After the first intentional ball was thrown to Papi, like a slow roll of thunder, the Fenway-chant began: Manny-Mannnny-MAAAANNNNNNNYYYYY. By the time Ortiz was trotting down to first, the entire Nation was on its feet; the chorus echoed from coast to coast. He stepped to the plate, and appeared to be “locked in”, just like the old days.

Then came the pop foul, followed by a collective, incredulous sigh from the Nation. Then came the first web gem in playoff history by a 17-year old kid (aka the anti-Bartman), who stole the ball away from Angels’ catcher, Jeff Mathis. Manny parlayed his new life into a walk, which allowed Mike Lowell’s fly ball to tie the game.

That moment represented more, though. For Manny, who this year has been as un-Manny-like as we’ve ever seen, that moment represented clarity. After that at bat he was locked in for the first time in ’07. Despite the ongoing struggles of mind versus body, preparation versus timing, Manny was finally able to rediscover himself. It was a feat he couldn’t accomplish while healthy early in the season, nor while ailing late in the season. Like everything with Manny, his swing and swagger were things only he was going to find again, and on his terms.

When Papi came up in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and Julio Lugo as the winning run on second base, there was little doubt that the game would be Manny’s to stamp. Scioscia held up four fingers; Manny started to stew. As the guy on deck for each one of Senor Octubre’s playoff walk-offs at the Fens, Manny might just have begun to feel a sense of history. Here he was, one of the great run-producers of all-time, just shy of 500 home runs, second-most postseason homers in MLB history, a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer with a World Series MVP to boot, yet eleven years removed his last walk-off home run.

Manny’s “legacy” is something that probably never held much water in his proverbial cup of tea. He is, and has always been, a studious and artful baseball mind, dedicated to mastering every conceivable aspect of hitting a baseball. For a guy who at times doesn’t even know the count when he’s up at bat, to say that his legacy was ever a matter of personal concern would be to greatly overestimate what is most important to Manny. In Manny’s world, the concepts of “time” and “history” are less significant than those of “routine” and “consistency”. By following routine and maintaining consistency, over time Manny ultimately impacted and changed history. That’s his career in a nutshell: 13 full seasons, 11 of them with 30+ home runs and 100+ RBIs; .313 career average; 490 home runs; 1,604 RBIs; nine playoff appearances; one title (and counting).

Manny’s body of work itself is history. However his mode of thought and workmanlike nature simply never allowed that notion to register. His production was a constant; time and years didn’t pass, merely at bats and games. Until this year. This year Manny never found his stroke; never settled into his trademark groove. For the first time in his career Manny went an entire season without being truly, undeniably, “locked in”.

By the time he came up in the ninth against K-Rod he could’ve been about to pilot the space shuttle and still wouldn’t have been as locked in as he was in that batters box. The Manny-stare was back. The Manny-swing followed suit. And once the ball cleared the coke bottles above the seats on top of the Green Monster, with Manny’s (plus another 38,000) hands raised towards the heavens, the entire baseball universe was shown that the Manny-swagger had returned as well.

And then he spoke.

Players concerned with and aware of their image are talkers. Those select few who contain greatness and are thus concerned with and aware of their legacy are illustrators. They’ll achieve greatness on the field before using the media to mold and re-craft it in such a way as to maximize its magnitude and staying power. Manny has forever epitomized the “silent star”. He didn’t need to talk in Cleveland (guys like Roberto Alomar, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome handled that) and never really desired to talk in Boston (minus, of course, “Media” Manny of 2003). Other than an interview he gave before the 2006 season, the last we heard from Manny was during the 2004 playoffs. That was when he talked about how the Sox “took it to another level” against the Yankees, explaining that “it was destination”.

Frank and sincere; witty and at times lost in translation, whenever Manny has spoken it has always been from the heart and informative. No spin. No slant. Just Manny being Manny (where have I heard that one before…). The microphone was Manny’s after Game 2. He gave an on-field interview to TBS, then he granted an exclusive to Peter Gammons for ESPN. To cap it off he made his first appearance in a post game press conference since I-don’t-know-when.

When Manny speaks he doesn’t embody the aura and potency of his track record. He’s just a guy, who knows he’s the best at what he does, talking about doing what he’s great at, with injections of humor. His personality lies in his sense of humor, which is pointed, but sometimes difficult to decipher because some jargon is tough to translate from Spanish. We do know that Manny’s “train doesn’t stop there” and that he is indeed “a bad man”, regardless of how he’s feeling.

The Nation got some reassurance in Game 3 that Manny seems to be feeling perfect at the ideal time of year. In his first at bat, Jered Weaver threw him a 3-2 changeup, which Manny just barely got a piece of. He stepped out of the box and took another look at the swing on the scoreboard replay, almost refusing to believe that he came so close to missing the pitch. The ensuing pitch was ball four. In his next at bat, following an Ortiz-home run, Manny fouled off two 3-2 pitches before sending a hanging breaking ball way over the left-center field wall. This was the same pitch that he’d been fouling straight back all year, but no longer. A game after hitting a walk-off home run for the first time in his playoff-career, he went back-to-back with Papi for the first time this season.

Recently there have been quite a few “firsts” for a guy who, over 13 years, has been one of the steadiest the game has ever seen. For as long as Manny has been Manny, he’s been the complete hitting package. We all know Manny’s train will stop in Cooperstown.

As for his legacy, if Manny stays as hot as these unseasonable October nights, sky’s the limit.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. spaghetti bolognese #

    maaaaannnnnyyyyy!!!!

    October 9, 2007
  2. spaghetti bolognese #

    it should be noted now that it’s official, the ‘struggling’ Manny of this regular season hit .417 with 3 HRs against the tribe in 7 games.

    ps does it count as a walk off HR if you do it against joe borowski? whatever they’re called I expect 4 of em…

    October 9, 2007
  3. eddy #

    Dispatch from the Wild Wild West

    As Ballgame’s West coast correspondent and sometime tipster I have to report in on Sunday’s deciding Divisional Series game between the “40 miles south of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim”, or as the locals call them, The Angels Angels, and your very own Boston Red Sox. The day started ominously enough as I knew I’d have a target on my back, if the scalpers were any indication, who immediately tried to sell me $15 nosebleeds for 120 bucks. Moving through hustler’s row I made my way to the local watering hole that just happened to be the only standing structure besides the Big ‘A’ within a 5 mile radius (the McD’s at the highway interchange notwithstanding). What I was met by was a sea of red, which upon scrutiny turned out to be about 80% Angels red and 20% Sox fans who were no doubt frustrated when they realized that their bright red Matsuzakas, Ortiz’s, Schillings and #18 “Demon” (lame joke about 18 months past relevant but whatever) shirts didn’t quite pack the statement-making punch they had hoped for when they acquired them in a hungover stupor on their New England college campus in late October 2004 (except of course the “Demon” shirts, which are newer, and therefore lamer). I on the other hand, anticipating the conflict of colors, was wearing my turn of the century navy blue Rich “El Guapo” Garces shirt, which obviously invited a deluge of hate any time I passed a Spanish speaking Angels fan which is uh…all of them.
    So decked in blue I picked my way through the crowd, deflecting the odd elbow and passing hiss in my ear, got a beer, and set about to find a ticket that did not involve an 800% markup. Lucky for me the combination of los Angels being down in an 0-2 hole and there being a gnarly rip up at Yuma Beach, Angels fans showed their true colors by literally giving their seats away. I was turning down offers for field level seats at face value. The fallout for Angels ‘fans’ was such that following the game the lines of Angel Talk were blowing up with calls dubbing those who sold me and (depending on who you ask) 5,000-20,000 friends our seats “disgraceful” and that “they should forfeit their season tickets”. The next morning even the usually mild mannered Bill Plaschke got in on the act, skewering Arte Moreno and the Angels fans for caring more about the low price of cervesas (a league-leading $4.50 per bud draft) than the fortunes of their ballclub. Touché Bill…aren’t you late for the horn?
    Anyways the whole ticket thing really epitomizes the West coast band-wagoneering mentality and announced to me that on Sunday morning the Angels were beat in all but the standings, with the mere formality of 9 innings of baseball separating the Sox from yet another champagne shower. (Speaking of which, Korbel? Really?? Does that bring the clubhouse bar tab to about $200? I know they’re supposed to act like they’ve been there before but does that mean sending the clubhouse attendant on 7-11 runs for booze? Let’s show some classe next time, huh boys?)
    But I digress. I scored my field level seat for $50 (on a $55 plus transaction fees online ticket) and made my way to right field, stopping along the way for the obligatory sausages (hotdog a spartan B-, Italian sausage a solid B) and found my seat which straddled the right field foul line giving me a dream view of the field and also, I immediately noted, putting me square in the path of the forthcoming and inevitable Papi blast. I was in the Pesky Corner of Fenway West and staring down the opportunity to be both that guy on TV who calls the bomb fair or foul AND the one who in a visiting stadium is one of the few going nuts as the go ahead run drops into the stands. For the record I also entertained on more than one occasion hopping over the 60 year old usher and the cement wall onto the grass and running the 20 or so feet to Vlad where he might not yet realize I’m coming and possibly grab his hat. What’s he really going to do? Anyways my mind was reeling with the possibilities and I was stoked.
    There were about two dozen scattered Sawx fans within earshot in my section and from pitch one we made sure we were locked into each other and the game. Lots of eye contact, fist pumps, and smiles just for having gotten to our seats in one piece delineated friend from foe. The first moment of the day for us was Manny’s 1st at bat at the top of the 2nd inning when we all took it upon ourselves to stand straight up in our seats, arms pointed skywards, and remind the sea of Angels fans who we were, why we were there, and why, as a result of the man standing at home plate and the events early Saturday morning the Angels found themselves in an 0-2 hole. Needless to say we would all assume this position for every Manny at bat for the rest of the day. Up until the 4th the back and forth between the two teams was pretty even, with Schilling and Weaver going out for out. But all that changed in the top of the 4th when David Ortiz came to bat. The drunk guy sitting three rows behind me barely had time to yell “Hey watch out for tha bomb Papi’s gonna drop on ya head dood!” to the three surly Mexicans sitting one row in front of me before the big man lofted a long fly ball that headed straight for us and landed 20 feet to our right in the now defunct old Angels bullpen, affectionately known as ‘the alley’. So me and the drunk guys exchanged high fives and laughed at the steaming Mexicans and all partied like it was 2004 and as I was texting my friends to tell them how I had narrowly missed catching Papi’s bomb off the head dood, I missed the second home run of the day.
    The roar amidst silence of the crowd drew my attention towards center field where I saw the ball disappear beyond the right field bleachers and imbed itself, I later learned, in the big A’s faux rock pile from which there were for the time being no fireworks exploding. From that point on it was open season in the stands, and the good natured jawing between sides morphed into more hostile exchanges that culminated in not a few fans being tossed from the premises for offenses such as having rally drums and beer bottles thrown at their heads. It continued to be a great ballgame as Schilling got in a few squeezes but extracted himself and the Sox offense threatened to score but was kept in check by Angels pitchers, who struck out the side once and induced 3 inning ending double plays to keep the Sox with just a 2 run lead. But ‘Big daddy Vladdy’ and the Angels “offense” were their anemic “run producing” selves. (By the way I’ve watched enough Angels broadcasts, and Vladimir Guererro has to have the most uncomfortable nickname to hear in all of baseball. The two guys, who are awful, call him that every time they mention him, and it gets really awkward. It’s just a terrible name…) In the top of the 8th when Justin Speir and the Angels bullpen folded and the Sox blew the game wide open courtesy of Pedroia, Youkilis, Lowell, et al and scored a seemingly endless barrage of runs and just piled it on until it became hard to keep track of just how bad we were shaming these guys in their own house and how many fans on both sides had been tossed for being just a little too rowdy.
    At the end of the day Manny was Manny, Papi defended his title as el Senor Octobre (sorry Derek), Schill was the thrill again (nice to meet you Mr. Schilling, thank you for joining us), and the three sections above the visitor’s dugout were “swarming” (to borrow a word from Plashke) with exuberant sox fans despite the best efforts of the “ushers” (who because it’s Orange County are all senior citizens) to keep us in our seats. We groaned as Gagne showed why he does not get the ball with the game on the line and lamented the loss of our precious shutout but were otherwise so overjoyed that when the last out was caught it was almost an afterthought, a coda to the victory we had been celebrating for the past five and a half innings in somebody else’s house. After the gutshot Angels fans unglued their hands from their shaking heads and filed zombie-like out of their stadium for the last time in 2007 the faithful stayed behind, hoping for a taste of champagne and maybe a little face time with a begoggled “Big John Stud” Papelbon (much to the concern of the Anaheim mounted Police, who, riot gear at the ready, seemed to think we were one Josh-Beckett-in-spandex apparition away from desodding the field). But sadly the Red Sox took the high road and apparently opted not to water Anaheim’s grass with Budweiser spray. Can’t blame them for respecting their opponents but those of us gathered were nothing short of disappointed at not having witnessed a good ol’ fashioned Sox pileup. But these aren’t the “idiots” of yore and that this ballclub has been there before. And on Sunday they showed it.
    Looking forward to the LCS and the teams in contention there’s one that hasn’t lost a game in a month, one that quietly went 31-12 down the stretch, and a third that is out to prove (and has proven) that they could win but I still think that the descendants of “the idiots” are the ones poised to go all the way. When Beckett, Schilling, and Matsuzaka (hopefully in that order) open the ALCS on Friday against the Cleveland Indians things will seem to have gone full circle in an era created by, you guessed it, Manuel Aristides Ramirez. Since his trade from the Indians (our “other” league rivals in the 90s) the Boston Red Sox have enjoyed prosperity not known since before most members of tha friggin’ nation were born. And as the LA newspapers reminded me on Monday morning, we should relish these, the glory days of being a Bostonian, wherever that might be. The Sox just swept the Angels out of the 2007 postseason and have won, I believe, the two teams’ last 9 playoff games. The Celtics are poised to win the East while the Lakers need a miracle to even make the playoffs. The Patriots have been playing 11-on-9 football for the past 5 weeks while LA’s team…oh wait. And the cherry on top, the thing that will really make an Angeleno boot his Pinkberry all over the leather dash of his hybrid is that Boston College has the fourth ranked football team in the nation while LA’s two pride and joys combined for a) a loss to a 41 pt underdog and b) a drubbing at the hands of Charlie Weis’s (the Boston connection is freaky!!!) horrendously bad Notre Dame football team leaving LA with NO teams in the top 5. Throw in the fact that Tom Brady peaced on his baby’s mama in a Santa Monica ER AND that tha Bean has a string of high profile movies coming out, Gone Baby Gone, Bachelor No. 2, The Women, and a few others and all of sudden it seems like Hollywood would rather be in Boston. So while it may be dangerous for me to sport my colors on the once friendly, sunny streets of So-Cal, each sneer I see is a reminder that for one weekend, amidst a sea of red, we made them see Red, and the memory of it will be seared (who’s paying attention?) in the minds of Angelenos for a long time to come. To paraphrase something I once read in the peerless Boston Globe: Drink up Boston fans, wherever you are, for your cup runneth over.

    October 10, 2007

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