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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Please smooth bumps in road

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- There aren't many "must" wins in a 162-game season, but yesterday's 6-2 Red Sox victory over the Angels certainly comes close.

A lot of things are happening around the team at this hour, most of them negative. Nomar Garciaparra, subject of trade rumors, is walking around like he's just been told he's going to the slammer with Martha Stewart. David Ortiz faces suspension for his Friday night bat-throwing tirade. The Sox, one game over .500 since May Day, are locked in a multi-team race for the final playoff spot and need some road wins to prove they are wild-card worthy.

Oh, and Manny Ramirez and manager Terry Francona appear locked in a steel cage match regarding Manny's availability to play left field, serve as designated hitter, or ride the pine while his hamstrings heal. It's not unlike last season's mysterious pharyngitis episode, which culminated with Manny puttin' on the Ritz when he was unable to put on a batting helmet.

All of which attached some urgency to the series finale at Angel Stadium, and the Sox came away with a much-needed win thanks to the efforts of Curt Schilling (12-4) and Ortiz, who hit a three-run homer, a triple, and a single.

"We knew we had to win," said catcher Jason Varitek.

Schilling was the definition of stopper. He pitched eight innings of three-hit ball, throwing 78 of his 113 pitches for strikes. The Sox are now 27-11 when Schilling or Pedro Martinez start. They are 23-29 in the other games. So the new riff off the old Braves mantra would be, "Pedro and Schill, then take a tranquilizer pill."

"We needed to win today," said Francona, who is no doubt aware that he's getting blasted back home in Boston. "Schill was a huge part of that . . . That's part of the reason he's here."

John Lackey handcuffed the Sox in the early innings and it looked like Schilling might be a 1-0 loser before Ortiz (25 homers, 83 RBIs) broke things open with his three-run homer in the sixth.

"We were down early, but there was no panic on the bench," said Varitek. "Kap [Gabe Kapler], Mac [David McCarty], David [Ortiz], Billy [Mueller], and Trot [Nixon] were all into it and that was big for us."

Schilling (3.04 ERA) said, "As inconsistently as we've been playing, a lot of it falls on the starting pitching to generate or create some momentum. We're playing without Manny now, and that's a huge hole."

Note that Varitek did not cite Ramirez. Note that Schilling mentioned Manny not playing. Connect the dots and wonder how long before the situation boils over.

This is Ramirez's fourth season in Boston and by now we know there are going to be bizarre Manny Moments two or three times per season. It's the Aurora Borealis on Planet Manny. This latest one started eight days ago when Manny said he couldn't play because of a sore left hamstring. Schilling was seen talking animatedly with Ramirez later that day, but both denied it had anything to do with Manny being out of the lineup. Ramirez went to Houston, played three innings of outfield in the All-Star Game, hit a homer, then showed up in Anaheim and was scratched from left field for the first game after the break. He was not in the starting lineup for the final three games. Francona yesterday said Ramirez can DH, but he doesn't want to create holes in his defensive alignment. So Ramirez sits.

The logic escapes this typist. I'd rather have Manny's bat for four or five plate appearances and risk the chance of a fly ball finding Kevin Millar in left. Otherwise, why not just field a team of Mark Belangers? But Francona is the manager and he says he'd rather have Manny on the bench than as DH. Seems like a power struggle.

In a bizarre scene in front of his locker yesterday morning, Ramirez said, "When I'm ready, I'll go out there. There's no rush. We're not pushing the panic button, you know."

Teammates Pedro Martinez and Ortiz teased Ramirez while he spoke and Pedro playfully pretended to insert a chip into the back of Manny's neck, then saying, "OK, he's ready to answer your questions now."

Smiling, playful as ever, Ramirez then said something about not answering any stupid questions and went off to hit in a batting cage. Stay tuned.

Speaking of playful, there is the matter of the Red Sox' comportment during games. Pedro needs to stop goofing in the dugout, especially when the Red Sox are losing. He did it constantly in New York and again during Saturday night's dismal defeat. And as for the home-run stylin' of Manny and Ortiz, they do so at the peril of the men who follow them in the order. If Nomar (two hits, including an RBI triple) was speaking to any of his teammates, he might want to tell Ortiz to tone it down a little. Garciaparra was drilled by John Lackey after Ortiz did the Rickey Henderson dance when he homered off Lackey.

The Sox are in Seattle tonight for two games. The Mariners are playing dead-ass baseball and are ripe to be swept. Time for the Red Sox to get something going on the road. Time for a statement that they are more than a .500 team. Time for the manager to get Ramirez's bat back in the lineup.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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