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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

This moment shouldn't last for a lifetime

SEATTLE -- It was a Manny Moment.

Chests bumping, hearts thumping, the full-of-confidence Red Sox were ready to beat Seattle yet again yesterday. It was the top of the first inning and Johnny Damon was on third and Manny Ramirez on second with only one out when Jason Varitek smoked a liner to fairly deep right field. The Sox were set to take a 1-0 lead on Varitek's sacrifice fly and no doubt would pummel the hapless Mariners for the third straight day.

But wait . . . with Damon set to tag up and bolt for home, he looked to his left and locked eyes with oblivious Ramirez, who was barreling toward third base.

There was not much anyone could do at that point. Damon tagged and sprinted toward the plate, but he didn't get there before Ichiro Suzuki's throw to second doubled off Ramirez for the final out of the inning. Naturally, the Sox wound up losing, 2-0. The immortal Gil Meche spun a beauty.

It made for a frustrating finish to a fine trip. The Sox went 5-2 in Oakland and Seattle and are still the hottest team in baseball, but the assumption that they are certain to overtake the Yankees in the American League East took a hit during the tumultuous week. Boston trailed New York by 2 1/2 games when the trip started and the Sox came home 3 1/2 behind. If New York wins at Kansas City tonight, the Sox will be four games behind the Yankees when they resume play at Fenway Park tomorrow night.

Forgetting how many outs there are in the first inning is unfortunate, but it happens over a 162-game season. Still, no one in a Red Sox uniform was willing to admit that's what happened to Manny, which perhaps speaks to the affection these Sox have for the goofy and wildly talented Ramirez.

Start with manager Terry "I love these guys" Francona, who would have had an excuse for the 1919 White Sox ("A man's got to feed his family, you know").

"Manny thought it was going to fall," stated the manager. "It was a costly mistake, but it happens. He knows. You go on. The last thing I would do is berate him. We didn't score, anyway."

Fine, but for the record, did Francona think Ramirez thought the ball was going to drop (not likely) or did he forget how many outs there were?

"I don't know," said Francona. "I'll talk to him. I saw he and [third base coach] Dale [Sveum] talking. When I see Dale talking to Manny, I'm not going to pile on during the game."

"I don't know if he forgot the outs or just thought it was a lower line drive that was going to fall in," Sveum said. "It happens every so often." Damon said, "We did run ourselves out of a run. We would love to have gotten that run. He was standing on third base when I was tagging up. I tried my best, hoping the throw [to second] would be slightly off."

"I was just trying to get a good jump right there, trying to score," Ramirez said. "But I got doubled up." No sweat, big guy. But did you forget how many outs there were?

"No, I was just trying to get a good jump," he said. "We're going to turn the page. We're going to move on."

Varitek, who was stripped of an RBI, patted Ramirez on the arm in the clubhouse.

"I was just hoping the ball was deep enough to score the run," said the catcher. "That happens. He made a mistake, but he's done a lot more good for this team. I'm not going to bury the guy for it."

Varitek was asked if it was possible Ramirez thought the ball might drop. He smiled and said, "The ball had topspin, but . . . Hey, we had other opportunities."

There. Manny Ramirez has 41 homers and 117 RBIs. He's worked at his defense and he's kept the Manny Moments to a minimum this season. He is embraced and protected by his teammates, just as they'd cover for Gabe Kapler, Kevin Millar, Damon, and others who've had brain cramps on the basepaths. This speaks to a happy clubhouse, and the Nation should celebrate such camaraderie and harmony.

"I just don't think we can be discouraged right now," said Francona. "We're doing too many good things."

He's right. They're not going to win them all, folks.

Three weeks to go. Yankees Friday. Like the Man(ny) says . . . turn the page.

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

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