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ON BASEBALL

He refused to get hot about cold spell

Years from now, we'll look back on Manny Ramirez as one of the most gifted hitters we've ever seen. The same way we now remember Wade Boggs and Jim Rice. We tend to hold back our praise while a player's career is going on. We wait to see how it all turns out before we truly appreciate the talent of a player.

Last night there was nothing to do except marvel at how Ramirez broke out of his early-season slump with six RBIs and two home runs, one a grand slam near the Coke bottles, against Dewon Brazelton of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

We've seen these outbursts often. What was surprising was the fact Ramirez batted .211 in the first 10 games, including the longest homerless drought to start a season of his career.

There has long been a misconception that Ramirez doesn't work hard. But if you watch him long before the game begins, you see there aren't many players who outwork him. And that's the case whether he's hitting .340 or .200. His "don't worry, be happy" approach is often mistaken for a lack of caring about his profession. In this case, Ramirez practiced his way out of a slump.

"I don't want to say it came out of nowhere, but he check-swinged the first pitch and he looked a little frustrated, and then boom, he puts on a perfect swing," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona of Ramirez's first homer last night.

Ramirez gave a brief interview to NESN after the game, then departed before speaking to the rest of the media. But before the game, Ramirez relayed how he was feeling as he attempted to work his way out of the slump.

He reiterated he plans to play out his contract with the Red Sox, which runs through 2008, and then retire at 36. He said he will return to the Dominican Republic and never look back.

Ramirez enjoys having fun with his teammates, but he isn't a class clown no one takes seriously.

While he doesn't wear the captain's C, Ramirez is a player others watch, because of his status in the game and because many believe he approaches his job the right way.

"I go do my lifting in the morning. I go and do my fly balls, and go through my routine," he said. "If you're not hitting, work on your defense. Sometimes things aren't going to go the way you want it. If you're working hard, then you're doing everything you can do. It'll come as long as you do something about it.

"If you're out getting drunk and staying up all night and sleeping late in the morning, nothing good is going to happen for you. But go out and give it 100 percent and maybe something good will happen for you.

"If I start to get down and hang my head, I'm going to stay in this [slump] for a long time. Keep your confidence up. You're gonna hit. Guys on this team are gonna hit.

"I'm not a captain, but I feel like if I work hard and other guys see what I do, it's going to help them, too. If a guy says, `Look, this guy makes all this money but he still works hard all the time,' and they do what I do to get better, they'll get better.

"They're thinking about sending me to Pawtucket," Ramirez said with a smile.

Whenever Ramirez's average dips, he hears about the money. It's no different than what Alex Rodriguez has encountered in New York.

"There's no pressure, man," said Ramirez. "You just go out and have fun. Look at A-Rod, he's playing hard all the time. You can never say he's lazy or that he's not trying. I think he's going to have a great year like last year. Sometimes it's never enough. You always hear, `Oh, he's making all this money.' But for me, it's not the money. If I'm not hitting, it's not because I'm thinking about the money. I think it's the same thing with A-Rod.

"I'm just not hitting right now."

Ramirez often jokes about winning the Gold Glove, or what he calls "the Silver Glove," but what he doesn't want is for anyone to think he doesn't care about defense.

"I do fly balls, play the Wall, work on my cutoff throws, throwing to second and third. Those are the things I have to do during the game, so when it happens in the game, I got it," he said.

"I do the best I can out there. I really try. I can look at myself in the mirror because I know how much I work at being better."

Hitting coach Ron Jackson said after Ramirez's display last night that he knew people had been worried about the slugger, but he wasn't one of them.

In Friday night's series-opening 10-0 win over the Devil Rays, Ramirez drew a bases-loaded walk in the seven-run second inning, then singled in his final at-bat. And before last night's game, he took 50 extra swings in the batting cage, working primarily on hitting sliders and changeups.

"All I know is it's not how you start," Ramirez said, "it's how you finish."

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