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ON BASEBALL

Positives outweigh negatives

When it was over, the Red Sox owner with the background in showbiz pronounced a proper benediction.

''What a weekend," Tom Werner wrote in an e-mail. ''Hollywood isn't this interesting."

For that, we all have Manny Ramirez to thank. But while it came as a relief to anyone who loves a great story -- and a Hall of Fame slugger -- that the Sox did not part ways with Ramirez before the trading deadline, the Sox' inability to add pitching and a lefthanded bat raises questions about whether they are well-positioned to make another run deep into October.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who had identified pitching as the team's greatest need entering the stretch, did not sound terribly concerned that in the end, the Florida Marlins elected to retain A.J. Burnett, the best starting pitcher on the market, or that deals for lefthanded relievers such as J.C. Romero of the Twins, Scott Eyre of the Giants, and even closer Eddie Guardado of the Mariners did not get done, mostly because Epstein felt the asking price was too high.

That was the same reason the Sox elected to take a pass on Aubrey Huff, the lefthanded hitter from Tampa Bay who would have given the Sox a productive bat while Trot Nixon recuperates from injury, and on outfielder Larry Bigbie, who looked as if he was going to be Ping-Ponged from Baltimore to Colorado to the Sox before the Sox told the Rockies they'd changed their minds. Instead, the Sox settled for a lesser deal, one that netted them Jose Cruz Jr., who has been plagued by back problems this season. It was the only move made this weekend by the Sox.

''We came pretty close to some things the last few days and then again today," Epstein said, meeting with reporters after yesterday's 4 p.m. deadline, ''but this was a really slow market. This was the least activity I ever remember at the deadline. Not only the deals completed, but also potential deals and phone calls across baseball -- chatter, if you will."

This was a trading season without a blockbuster. Ramirez did not go to the Mets. Burnett did not go to the Sox, neither Red nor White. Closer Danys Baez is still with Tampa Bay. Alfonso Soriano remained with the Rangers, despite runs by the Cubs, Twins, and Mets. The Yankees did not get a center fielder, and the Cubs came up empty in their under-the-radar run at Ken Griffey Jr. Slugger Mike Sweeney stayed in Kansas City, Guardado remained in Seattle, and Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer vetoed a deal that would have sent him to the Astros.

''We tried hard to make some things happen and get some complementary pieces in here for this club," Epstein said. ''We weren't able to make it happen. But I feel pretty good about the depth of this team overall, about the reinforcements we have at the Triple A level, and as we go forward, there's always a chance at a waiver deal in August.

''You ask how I feel about this club and I feel good. This is a first-place team. This team has a chance to win the division. This team has a chance to go into the postseason. I think July is always the tensest month of the year, especially in Boston. We weathered it. We had our trials and tribulations and found a way to get through it with our heads held high and together as a team."

The consensus, both in the clubhouse and in the concourses, was that the Sox are better off with Ramirez still here, not to mention Billl Mueller, who is called Billy Ballgame by his teammates for a reason.

''Things are good with Manny right now," Epstein said. ''I think you have to take him at his word. He's really happy to be here."

And for now, we may have to take Epstein at his word, that he is counting on a healthy and better-conditioned Keith Foulke coming back to close games out for the Sox, and that Curt Schilling will continue to make an impact, though Epstein refused to be pinned down when asked when (or if) Schilling will make it back to the rotation.

But you don't have to take Epstein's word for it that the Sox have some kids who can help, and right away, as pitchers Jon Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen have shown this week. Both have pitched well enough to buy some more time in the majors, although Epstein said some of those decisions will wait until club officials meet today to discuss their options.

''Taking a broader look at the trade deadline, we did do some things," Epstein said. ''We acquired some new players to support this big league team, from Gabe Kapler coming back from Japan to Chad Bradford, and all the way back to [Tony] Graffanino and [Alex] Cora and Jose Cruz Jr., reinforcements from the minor leagues.

''There's been quite a bit of turnover, so to speak, during the month of July. It just wasn't as dramatic as it might seem with a last-minute trade. But I feel pretty good about the nature of the roster and the depth we have."

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