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Mother on his mind

Ramirez offers reason for slump

SEATTLE -- He went into last night's game against Seattle hitting .243, 73 points below his career average entering this season. He'd struck out 30 times, 15 looking, putting him on pace for 139 Ks, which would be the second-highest total of his spectacular career.

On Thursday, ESPN's Peter Gammons, speaking on WEEI Radio, summarized Manny Ramirez's season like this: ''I find him as distracted as any time I can ever remember him. He just doesn't seem to be into the games at all. There was a time when he was a dominant offensive force at the end of games."

Ramirez, sitting on the Red Sox bench yesterday afternoon at Safeco Field, offered to speak for a few minutes, something he hadn't done in weeks. He said he's been affected by his mother's health.

''My mom's been real sick," Ramirez said. ''I've been thinking a lot about that. She's now getting better. Like, what's the name of the disease? She's got a disease. She can't move with her legs. It's a weird name. She's getting better. She's got to get a lot of massages."

Asked if it was arthritis, Ramirez said, ''Yeah, yeah, arthritis. She's getting a lot of massages, trying to get better. She's in Fort Lauderdale [Fla.]. I haven't gone back to see her."

Ramirez said that his sick grandmother, whom he visited during spring training instead of traveling to the White House with the team, is ''fine." He didn't explain her illness, but offered this: ''They've got to change her blood, stuff like that. She's like 90 years old. She's in the house with my mother."

Ramirez once cited the death of a grandmother as his reason for being late to the 2001 All-Star Game here. He said the grandmother he's now talking about is his great grandmother on his mother's side.

His family's health, coupled with his low batting average, has caused him to keep to himself in the media's presence, he said. He usually ignores people who approach him to ask questions, and he often wears his iPod headphones in the clubhouse.

''I've just been quiet, you know," Ramirez said. ''I don't have nothing against nobody. I just want to go and play the game and be quiet."

Told that people sense he's disinterested, Ramirez said, ''Oh no, no, no."

Asked if he's heard those criticisms, he said, ''Not really, man. I just go and try to play my game and give 100 percent."

Terry Francona was asked about this topic in his pregame manager's media session Friday.

''I don't think Manny thinks he's in midseason form," Francona said. ''At the same time in his defense he's on pace for how many RBIs? 120, 130. It's 100 at-bats, he's hitting .240. I don't know.

''I don't understand this disinterested part, so I'm not sure I can give you a good quote, because I'm not sure I understand it."

Told Ramirez has been noncommunicative with the media, Francona said: ''You tell me that now. I haven't seen it, because he's been great with me. I guess I really don't care if he's the greatest quote in the world. I guess what everyone said last year, he really opened up to the media and everything. If he's not, again, what's the perception?

''Around the ball club he's been the same guy. I haven't noticed anything."

His quiet demeanor aside, the most perplexing thing is Ramirez's batting average. His power numbers are fine. He went into last night with eight home runs and 30 RBIs in 34 games. That projects to 38 home runs and 143 RBIs over a season. But he had been below .300 for all 35 games this season. In his four-year Sox career before this season he'd slipped below .300 for just 32 games.

''I'm trying to figure it out," he said. ''It happened in Cleveland for a time. I was hitting .250, .260, then I finished at .310. You know, this is a team, I don't have to do it myself. We have [David] Ortiz, [Kevin] Millar, Tek [Jason Varitek], [Trot] Nixon, all these guys swinging the bat pretty good. What we need to do is stay together. That's what we're trying to do."

He was asked how he thinks he'll finish this season.

''I don't know," he said. ''I'm going to be there. I don't worry about that. I feel like we're going to win it again. I have that feeling. I feel it, man, I feel the energy around here. Everybody is pulling for each other."

Ramirez, who was slowed by quadriceps and ankle problems earlier this season, though neither forced him out of the lineup, said he's healthy.

The quad? ''It was tight but it's good," he said.

The ankle? ''Oh yeah, that's fine," he said. ''I'm an old man. I'm not a kid anymore. Three more [years] and that's it."

Ramirez's eight-year contract expires after the 2008 season. He might at that point be on the precipice of some of baseball's hallowed marks, 500 home runs, for instance. He's currently two shy of 400.

''I haven't really thought about it," he said of the 400 club. ''I know I'm going to get there someday, so I'm not worried about it."

With that Ramirez popped up and headed for the field. Asked if he might be willing to talk again soon, he said, ''Oh yeah."

Ortiz had been sitting nearby on the bench, listening to the conversation. Ortiz interjected, saying, with a smile, ''That's enough for a month."

Ramirez turned and said, ''Yeah, that's enough for a month," then skipped off to do his hitting.

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