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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

This is one star that is in a wobbly orbit

SEATTLE -- More news yesterday from the International Astronomical Union general assembly in Prague. In the wake of their controversial decision to demote Pluto, the astronomers have agreed to officially recognize Planet Manny as the new ninth celestial body in our solar system.

Makes sense. Planet Manny operates in his own orbit and hits baseballs into outer space. He's certainly no dwarf planet like Pluto.

Closing the loop on another weird week, Manny Ramírez last night made his first start since Wednesday in Anaheim. He he went 0 for 3 with a strikeout, two harmless grounders, and an intentional walk in Boston's 4-3 loss. The only time he had to run hard, he was cut down going from first to third on a single to left in the eighth.

``I think he's a little bit better," manager Terry Francona said when asked about the status of the slugger, who's been plagued with knee and hamstring problems (we think) the last week.

Here's a brief history of the last nine days on Planet Manny:

Friday, Aug. 18: Goes 1 for 2 with a homer and two walks in first loss to the Yankees. Replaced by Gabe Kapler in the top of the ninth. Goes 4 for 6 with a double and two RBIs in the nightcap. Loses a base hit when official scorer charges Derek Jeter with an error on a vicious hopper to Jeter's right. Sox complain to league, requesting error be changed to hit. Protest eventually denied.

Saturday, Aug. 19: According to the Providence Journal, Ramírez has to be talked into playing this game because he's still steamed about Friday's scoring decision. Crushes a three-run homer, and walks twice before Eric Hinske pinch hits for him in the eighth.

Last Sunday: Plays all 10 innings of the fourth consecutive excruciating loss to the Yankees. Goes 2 for 2 with a double and three walks.

Monday: Walks twice before being replaced after four innings of a 2-1 loss in the final game of the Yankee sweep. Francona says Ramírez left because of cramping in his right hamstring.

Tuesday: Sits out until the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss. Pinch hits against Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth and hits a vicious liner to center that is caught by Chone Figgins.

Wednesday: Replaced in the bottom of the fourth after grounding out twice. Francona says Manny has soreness in his right knee.

Thursday: Goes for MRI in Southern California, which shows no structural damage. Francona cites preexisting condition of patellar tendinitis and lists Manny as day-to-day. Does not play against Angels.

Friday: Does not play against Mariners.

Last night: Back in the lineup, back in left field. Nine full innings.

Summary: In 10 games over nine days, Manny went the distance only three times. He started seven games, pinch hit once, and sat out two games entirely. He was replaced in four of his seven. Manny went 8 for 11 with 9 walks (five intentional), 2 doubles, 2 homers, and 7 RBIs in the Yankee series, but from Monday through Saturday, Ramírez went 0 for 6 and Boston scored only 14 runs in six games.

Bloggers, e-mail friends, fanboys, and other wonderful Globe readers: Please, this is not a Manny rip job. These are facts. Manny Ramírez is hitting .326 with 34 homers and 100 RBIs. He has played in 123 of Boston's first 129 games, which makes him something of a iron man in today's game. As previously stated, he is a modern-day Jimmie Foxx, a certain Hall of Famer, and he works hard at his craft. He has chosen not to talk to the media this year, and we don't care if you don't care. Even when he's not talking, Ramírez is polite, and his presence is anything but a disruption in the clubhouse. He goes about his business in his private orbit and doesn't bother anybody.

But his silence and his history provoke suspicion, and ours is a most cynical Nation. David Ortiz snapped at Manny's critics earlier this week and Francona took a few swings yesterday.

``There's never a good time in Red Sox Nation for Manny to come out of a game," said the manager. ``Either he's gonna catch [expletive] or I'm gonna catch [expletive]. He's [34] and his knee hurts."

And the Sox need him more than ever. Outer space is a lonely place without Planet Manny.

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

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