With trade talks lurching uncertainly between the Red Sox and New York Mets last night, another odd chapter to the Manny Ramirez saga played out yesterday, when Red Sox manager Terry Francona scratched the outfielder from the starting lineup just minutes before last night's game and announced after the game, a 6-2 Red Sox win over the Minnesota Twins, that Ramirez would not play this afternoon, either.
''I visited with him and told him it was not just in his best interests, but in the ballclub's best interests that he sit and clear his head, take a few deep breaths, and he agreed," Francona said in explaining his reasons for sitting the American League leader in RBIs and co-leader in home runs for two days against the Twins, a team in contention for a postseason spot.
He said the lateness of his decision to sit Ramirez stemmed from a lack of ''privacy" in the Sox clubhouse once the media are allowed in, which is why he didn't meet with Ramirez, he said, until after the clubhouse closed again at 6:20 p.m. Francona, who originally had Ramirez batting cleanup and playing left field on the lineup card posted in the clubhouse, denied that Ramirez had come to him a half-hour before the game and asked to be taken out of the lineup, then 15 minutes later said he wanted to play, a version of events provided by a source who had spoken to high-ranking club officials.
''I went to him today," Francona said. ''I thought that was the best way to do it. He's got some things flying around. I've got an obligation to everyone in the ballclub to communicate, set things straight, and in some situations reassure people. I thought it was very successful."
Ramirez was at Fenway Park yesterday morning, working out as he customarily does, but evidently Francona could not find time to meet with him privately, or call him and ask for a private session, before the clubhouse was open to the media.
David Wells, last night's winning pitcher, had some pointed remarks about Ramirez on NESN's postgame show. ''The guy's messing with my cake," Wells said. ''Whatever it is, he better have a great excuse because we need Manny in the lineup. I don't care what, this team needs him."
Greg Genske, Ramirez's agent, who flew in from Chicago yesterday and met with Ramirez before the game, denied any knowledge of his client asking not to play. ''I have heard nothing about Manny scratching himself from the lineup," said Genske.
Ramirez, who came onto the field to high-five teammates after the game and was serenaded with chants of ''Manny, Manny," did not appear in the clubhouse areas open to the media after the game.
A three-way deal that would have sent Ramirez to the Mets collapsed yesterday afternoon, but the Sox continued negotiations separately with the Mets for Ramirez, and with the Devil Rays, the third team, for infielder-outfielder Aubrey Huff, a lefthanded hitter the Sox are seeking because Trot Nixon might be out for an extended period with a strained oblique muscle. The Chicago White Sox also were believed to be pursuing both Huff and closer Danys Baez, players that were involved in the abortive three-team deal, which would have had Huff, Mets outfielder Mike Cameron, pitcher Aaron Heilman, and prospect Lastings Milledge going to the Sox. Ramirez, Baez, and infielder Julio Lugo would have gone to the Mets. The Devil Rays would have received prospects from both clubs. Disagreement over the prospects in the trade, and monetary issues, could not be overcome.
The Sox and Mets then dealt one-on-one regarding Ramirez, but according to major league sources, neither team was optimistic a deal could be struck before today's 4 p.m. deadline. ''I think we'll just wait and see," Genske said. ''It could be a long night."
Under terms of the proposed deal, the Sox would receive the righthanded hitting Cameron and the highly regarded Milledge, a 20-year-old outfielder and No. 12 overall pick in 2003, for Ramirez, with the Mets apparently prepared to absorb most, if not all, of Ramirez's contract. ''We will not make a bad trade," one Red Sox source directly involved in negotiations said yesterday, a signal that the Sox did not believe they were getting enough in return for Ramirez.
The Sox did make one trade, acquiring light-hitting outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. and cash considerations from the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor league infielder Kenny Perez and minor league pitcher Kyle Bono, neither of whom is rated among the team's top prospects. They also had a deal in place that would have sent Triple A catcher Kelly Shoppach to the Rockies for Larry Bigbie, an outfielder the Rockies acquired Friday night from Baltimore for Eric Byrnes, but that deal was called off yesterday morning, much to the reported chagrin of the Rockies.
Cruz, who was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks early last week, hit just .213 this season. The switch-hitting Cruz can platoon in right field with Gabe Kapler, newly activated yesterday after his return from Japan, and is insurance in case the Sox are unable to add Huff or another lefthanded bat.
''A lot of swings and misses," said one major league scout, who has seen a great deal of Cruz. ''His defense is OK, but his skills have depreciated. That's the best way to put it."
One source close to Ramirez said the Florida Marlins and Texas Rangers also had called about Ramirez, but there did not appear to be activity on those fronts. The Sox talked with the Mariners about lefthanded closer Eddie Guardado, but the sides were not close to consummating a deal. Any deal for Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett appeared dead, as the Marlins said they were holding onto the righthander, who threw eight shutout innings yesterday against the Nationals.
The Sox also were continuing talks with the Twins to obtain lefthanded reliever J.C. Romero for third baseman Bill Mueller. The holdup, according to a major league source, was the Twins' insistence on a prospect, since Mueller is eligible for free agency after the season.
Amalie Benjamin of the Globe staff contributed to this report.