Lenny Megliola: Is Manny losing ‘it’?
They left town late June in first place, leading Tampa Bay by a game. They came home a bit of a train wreck, trailing the Rays by seven games in the all-important loss column.
Early on the Red Sox road trip, Manny Ramirez threw a 66-year-old man in street clothes to the floor over a petty thing. At the end of the road trip, Manny had another bad idea. With the game on the line, he watched three straight Mariano Rivera strikes go by without swinging.
On the disastrous journey, Manny picked the wrong time to be aggresive and the wrong time to be passive.
You can’t get in Manny’s head, but pitchers have been getting in his wheelhouse without paying a price. He’s become a strikeout machine. He hit .167 on the 3-7 road trip. His throwdown of Jack McCormick didn’t win him any friends with senior citizens. Manny’s 36, moving in on AARP status, baseball-wise.
Is age wearing Manny down? He wouldn’t be the first player to lose “it” overnight.
Manny needed a moment, a POSITIVE one. Last night against the Twins, it came in the shape of an RBI single in the eighth inning, which proved to the only run of the game. It was Manny’s second hit. Would this start him on an overdo tear?
In the past, Manny’s transgressions have always been forgiven by the fans. The phrase Manny Being Manny became an enabler. He was forgiven, or simply not accused of anything more serious than being immature. They kept giving Manny mulligans for one specific reason: He would hit his way back into the good graces of anyone who might think less of him.
But if the court of public opinion has a shelf life, you couldn’t have proved last night. All he heard was cheers, from Carl Beane announcing the starting lineups to every Manny at bat. When he came up in the eighth, the roar rattled the creaky foundation of the old ballpark.
Manny’s slump has been so prolific that some folks began to wonder if he’d begun the downslide of his career. It IS way too early to think that five, 10 years from now you’ll be able to say, sure, I remember when Manny began losing it. It was the summer of ’08. Great hitter. Hall of Famer. But the slippage was obvious. Let’s see how it plays out over the next three months.
Maybe Manny will cram the evil thoughts and words down our throats with a monster second half of the season. Hey, it’s an option.
Ramirez’s dip couldn’t have been more poorly timed. Never mind that it’s a contract year for him. That we knew. What wasn’t known was that David Ortiz would be out with a bad wrist, that the lower half of the lineup -- Coco Crisp, Jason Varitek and Julio Lugo -- would be awful (1-10 last night); That Jacoby Ellsbury’s ascension would be knocked down a peg or two.
It’s not that Manny hasn’t carried the team; he’s pulled it down with too many late inning K’s when a hit would have changed things. What do you think his teammates were thinking when he never swung the bat Sunday night?
They’ll never tell. But the paying customers speak up.
“I couldn’t stomach it,” said Mike Perry, a Red Sox fan from Kentucky at who was at Fenway for the first time last night. But Perry’s an unabashed Manny idolator. “I’ve followed him since he was in high school. I was a Manny fan when he played for Cleveland.”
The starting pitchers have done their job. The bullpen’s been brutal. Hideki Okajima was effective last night after too many implosions. The middle relief situation has been messy at best. Do you trust Javier Lopez, David Aardsdma or Mike Timlin? Manny Delcarmen has been OK, but every time Craig Hansen takes a step forward, two steps back seem to follow.
Larry Pelletier, formerly from Danvers, Mass., but living in Texas now, is just plain fed up with his old towne team.
“I’m just tired of them, their antics. Manny should be off the team, irregardless of what he does with the bat.”
Russ O’Neill from West Brookfield, Mass., took a different tact. “I love Manny. I can’t get enough of him. Everyone goes in a slump”
Not that anything Manny does is okay with O’Neill. He cited the incident with McCormick. “Everyone gets angry, but it’s not something that (the team) should sanction. But I thought the media made it bigger than it is.”
With Manny, it’s always bigger than it is.
Dan Watson of Nashua said “I think Manny’s getting angry at everybody.” His dad, Mark, opined “I’ve never been a big Manny fan. He seems to be a little on the lazy side. I think he’s a distraction in the clubhouse.”
“Sometimes things just happen (with Manny),” said Adriene Camarta of Warren, Mass. Kevin Youkilis is more her style. “He plays hard. Even when it’s a sure out he runs right through first base.”
Anyway, one game back in Fenway, and Manny was heroic again. Maybe it’ll get him going. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays have become THE story. What the Celtics did in one year on the hard floor the Rays are trying to pull off on the field.
The big game tonight? Rays at Yankees. No joke.
Lenny Megliola is a Daily News columnist. His e-mail is email@example.com