BALTIMORE - Even if Manny Ramírez seems bent on hitting a homer a day, there was no minimizing the news after Hideki Okajima's meltdown in last night's 6-3 Red Sox loss to the Orioles that David Ortiz has a left wrist injury that is expected to sideline him at least a month.
"Man, those are your weapons, your hands are your weapons, your wrist, everything, those are your weapons," said Sean Casey, whose playing time is likely to spike with Ortiz headed to the disabled list.
Ortiz is out with what the team is calling a partial tear of the sheath that keeps in place the extensor carpi ulnaris tendon, which governs the action of extending and adducting the wrist. That clicking sound Ortiz heard was the ECU tendon snapping over the bone because it had slipped out of its groove.
"Once you lose your hands, there's not much you can do," said Casey, who tore cartilage in the same area of the wrist while still in the minors in 1997 and missed eight weeks. "You really paralyze yourself as a ballplayer, as soon as you lose your wrists and your hands."
Ramírez has assured one and all that he intends to hit 600 home runs before he vanishes for good into Kevin Millar's Brazilian rain forest. No one, however, imagined that he'd be aiming to do so before the end of this season.
Despite a tender hamstring that has bothered him the last couple of weeks and factored in Terry Francona's decision to use him at DH, Ramírez hit No. 502 last night, his third home run in three games. Home run historian David Vincent said no previous member of the 500-homer club had homered in the next two games after hitting No. 500.
With 102 games left, you don't have to be smarter than a fifth-grader to recognize the mathematical possibilities, though his current pace might be too much to ask, especially with Ortiz now the designated spectator.
"We've got to keep playing until he gets back," said Ramírez, who came to bat a final time with two on and two outs in the ninth against Orioles closer George Sherrill but lined to right to end the game. "He's a big part of the team.
"What can you do? You don't plan to get hurt. When that happens, be patient, keep playing the way you're playing, and wait for him.
"Just pray that he gets back soon, and move on."
The Sox ended their three-city, 10-game trip with a 4-6 record, and will be 1 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay when they face the Rays tonight in Fenway Park, where the Sox have won 10 straight.
Francona begged off on speculating what his lineup will look like in Ortiz's absence. "We'll figure it out," he said.
Ramírez's home run wound up as a mere footnote when Okajima, for whom Baltimore has been something less than Charm City, gave up four hits, including Adam Jones's three-run double, and four runs in the eighth inning, erasing a one-run lead the Sox had taken behind Tim Wakefield.
On May 14, Okajima gave up a three-run home run to Jay Payton in the eighth inning of another 6-3 loss at Camden Yards. He now has five blown saves, most in the American League.
"He felt good out there," Okajima's translator, Jeff Yamaguchi, told reporters after reconnoitering with Okajima in a dining area off-limits to reporters. "Nothing went right for him."
Okajima threw 24 pitches while facing seven batters. All but four of the pitches were fastballs. Nick Markakis, Melvin Mora, and Aubrey Huff hit fastballs for singles to load the bases with no outs. Millar hit a changeup for the sacrifice fly that tied the score. Okajima threw three curveballs, all for balls, which meant more fastballs.
Some textbook defense by first baseman Kevin Youkilis preserved the tie, Youkilis fielding Luke Scott's chopper and running right at Mora, hung up between third and home.
But that reprieve was temporary, as Okajima walked Ramon Hernandez and Jones cleared the bases with his double, Jacoby Ellsbury running into the left-field wall in a futile attempt to end the inning.
The runs given up by Okajima were the first allowed by the Sox bullpen since Mike Timlin gave up the deciding run in a loss last Tuesday night in Seattle. The pen had gone 14 scoreless innings, but Okajima, who pitched in three of the four games here, gave up more hits than he has in any game he has pitched since coming from Japan.
Ramírez's eighth-inning single and Mike Lowell's willingness to shorten his swing had helped give the Sox a 3-2 lead against the Orioles, whose desperation to salvage something out of this extended weekend was evident before the game, when manager Dave Trembley put the team through fielding drills usually seen only in spring training.
Trembley's frustration reached its tipping point in the third inning when he was ejected, Trembley delaying his departure until after he made a show of drawing the batter's boxes for plate umpire Alfonso Marquez.
The Sox broke a 2-all tie in the eighth with a rally that began with Youkilis drawing a walk from Jim Johnson, Baltimore's highly touted rookie reliever. Ramírez, who in the sixth inning had hit an 0-and-2 pitch from starter Jeremy Guthrie into the first row of the right-field bleachers - not far from where he'd hit No. 501 the day before - followed with a ground ball through the left side for a base hit.
Johnson uncorked a wild pitch on his first delivery to Lowell, both runners moving up. Lowell, determined to hit a ball to the right side, then punched a ground ball past second baseman Brian Roberts for a single that scored Youkilis to make it 3-2, Ramírez advancing to third. The Orioles were at double-play depth when J.D. Drew hit a ground ball to short, which may be why Ramírez broke for the plate, where he was easily erased by Freddie Bynum's throw.
Coco Crisp, who had broken an 0-for-23 slump with a fourth-inning single, walked, but Alex Cora hit into an inning-ending double play.
And so tonight, life begins without Big Papi, indefinitely and uncertainly.
"This is a good team," Casey said. "We'll all try to bide time and hold the fort while he's gone."