The chant cresting in the old yard just after 10 last night amounted to a curtain call -- many of the 35,167 on hand chanting ''Manny, Manny," seeking acknowledgement as the man who has clubbed 182 home runs and knocked in 558 runs in just four and a half seasons with the Red Sox walked off the field.
Manny Ramirez lifted his left arm and waved, then descended the dugout steps. Was it a goodbye? Was it a nonverbal gesture -- Ramirez's preferred method of communication -- implying thanks? Will it be seen again, that body in that uniform, saluting the fans of Boston?
Nobody knew at that time -- not the Sox general manager, not the manager, and certainly not the crowd slowly exiting Fenway Park. They'd arrived to hear a starting lineup announced with Ramirez playing left field and batting fourth. And yet, when the Sox took to the field shortly after 7, Kevin Millar was assuming a spot in the Monster's shadow and John Olerud -- as the fans would learn in the bottom of that inning -- was batting cleanup.
Olerud delivered, knocking in three runs in a 6-2 win on a night full of uncertainty in the Back Bay.
''We go out and play, whatever our lineup is," said captain Jason Varitek. ''Nobody is going to take that away from us. Period. I'll tell you that right now."
Terry Francona met with Ramirez at about 6:20 last night, immediately after the media had cleared the clubhouse. The manager sensed Ramirez needed a day off -- and another today -- to rest his mind. He was booed Friday, a reaction to his recent request to be traded, and he was close to being dealt to the Mets yesterday.
''I feel like he took a breath and feels good," Francona said.
And, the Sox, as a team, felt good, too, about the effort displayed by the men who were on the field.
Olerud enjoyed prime run-producing situations his first three at-bats. In the first inning, he came to the plate with Edgar Renteria (single) and David Ortiz (walk) aboard and singled to center, plating Renteria for a 1-0 lead.
Ortiz would walk four times, three times with first base open, once intentionally. Welcome to life -- whether for a day or forever -- without Ramirez .
In the second inning, Olerud's turn came with the bases loaded. Renteria had already knocked in a run with a bloop single down the first-base line over the head of Justin Morneau. But Olerud grounded into a fielder's choice.
Then, in the sixth, Olerud again came to bat with the bases full. Twins reliever Terry Mulholland fell behind Olerud, 3 and 0, got one called strike, then delivered a pitch that Olerud stung into center field for a two-run single, upping the lead to 5-0. Millar then singled to center, again loading the bases, this time for Varitek, who singled in another run for a 6-0 advantage.
It would have been nice to have watched Ramirez hit with the bases full -- his three grand slams lead the team and are more than eight major league teams have this season -- but Olerud and the Sox managed to go 2 for 4 with three RBIs in the game with the bases loaded.
That continued the team's scorching production this year with the sacks full. The Sox, who are batting .355 with the bases loaded, lead the majors in bases-loaded at-bats (138), hits (49), homers (10), and RBIs (133).
David Wells, meanwhile, pitched seven scoreless innings before running into difficulty in the eighth, when he allowed three consecutive hits and was tagged with two runs. But by that time he was comfortably ahead, and the Sox were headed to their 12th win in his last 13 starts.
''He makes it easy for everybody to get comfortable," Francona said. ''He kind of puts you in a rocking chair."
That was especially true between the fourth and seventh innings. Wells had allowed a leadoff single to Shannon Stewart to begin the game, consecutive second-inning singles to Jacque Jones and Bret Boone, and a third-inning single to Michael Cuddyer. Wells, following Cuddyer's single, shouted an expletive so loud it could be heard in the press box.
''I express myself more than others," Wells said. ''It doesn't look good but I don't care. I let it out and it kind of gets me over the hump."
Last night, over the hump meant 13 consecutive hitters retired. He sent down the Twins in order in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings.
Wells's streak ended when Morneau hit one on the screws to lead off the eighth. Right fielder Gabe Kapler, playing his first game since last season with the Sox, initially charged the ball, which probably cost him a chance of catching it. The ball zipped over his head for a double. Catcher Mike Redmond followed with an RBI double down the line in left, and Redmond scored on a Juan Castro's single.
Wells was lifted with no outs in the inning. The crowd rose and cheered, though not for the same thing. Most of the fans were up to salute Wells's seven-inning, two-run gem. The fans along the left-field line were applauding Millar, who was climbing into the Monster, in tribute to his friend, Ramirez. Millar also gave those fans Ramirez's two-arm salute.