The rumbling in the stands began as soon as he stood up in the Red Sox dugout, a bat in his hand, and was a full-throttled, foot-stomping roar by the time he emerged from the dugout late yesterday afternoon at Fenway Park. Baseball's trading deadline had passed, Manny Ramirez was still in a Red Sox uniform, and a full house on Yawkey Way left no doubt about how it felt about that.
''I was confused," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who was at home plate in the middle of receiving an intentional walk when the cheering erupted. ''I looked back [toward the dugout]. I saw my man."
And when Ramirez, pinch hitting with two outs in the eighth inning of a tie game, bounced a ground-ball single over the head of Minnesota pitcher Juan Rincon to deliver Edgar Renteria with the deciding run in a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins, then thrust his helmet skyward in salute from first base, whatever ill will Ramirez had engendered with his peculiar behavior in the last week seemed long forgotten.
''I think he saw the best of Boston in about a 10-minute span," said Sox manager Terry Francona, who had kept Ramirez out of the lineup for a second straight day because of a two-day hiatus designed, he had said, to allow the player to ''clear his head."
''I think anybody would want to be here. It's hard not to get chills when that stuff is happening. That's one of the most electric baseball atmospheres you'll ever see."
Enough of demands to be traded, refusals to play, rumors of deals that would have made him a New York Met, all of which had roiled Ramirez, the clubhouse, and Red Sox fandom in the days leading up to yesterday's 4 p.m. deadline.
''This is the place to be," Ramirez crowed to NESN reporter Eric Frede as he left the field. ''Manny being Manny, it's great, man."
Yes, he described himself, for the first time in memory, with the same phrase that so many others -- admirers, detractors, teammates, bosses -- have employed to describe a character alternately confounding and charming, maddening and marvelous.
''Is this how we drew it up?" deadpanned Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who had spent many hours in the previous three days working the phones on various trade scenarios with the New York Mets, before ultimately deciding that no offer made by the Mets, either by themselves or in a proposed three-way deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, was sufficient to part with Ramirez.
''Now we get to keep the best righthanded hitter in the game," said catcher Jason Varitek, expressing his approval that the Sox had elected to make their peace with Ramirez rather than rousting him from the roster.
Epstein declined to discuss the specifics of why he did not consummate a trade involving Ramirez or any other deal before the deadline. Deals that would have given the Sox a lefthanded reliever (J.C. Romero from the Twins, Scott Eyre from the Giants), a lefthanded bat (Aubrey Huff from the Devil Rays or Larry Bigbie from the Rockies), an outfielder to take Ramirez's place (Mike Cameron from the Mets) or a top minor league prospect (Lastings Milledge from the Mets) all fell through.
In many of the proposals fielded by Epstein, potential trading partners were asking for the team's top prospects, including shortstop Hanley Ramirez, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, and pitchers Jon Lester and Anibal Sanchez.
''I think it was the ultimate sellers' market," Epstein said, ''and if you're a buyer and you're in the ultimate sellers' market, it's hard to make a fair deal. It's hard to make a deal that doesn't hurt you more than helps you.
''I kind of liken it to if you need a carton of milk and put five bucks in your pocket and go to the store to get some milk, and all of a sudden milk is 100 bucks, you may walk out of that store without some milk. That's what we did."
The Mets were the only team to make a serious run at Ramirez, whose cost ($64 million left on a contract that runs through the 2008 season) was too prohibitive for most of the other teams that might otherwise have sought the 33-year-old slugger, especially after he made what has become an annual request to be traded. His most recent trade demand was confirmed by team CEO Larry Lucchino last Thursday morning in the aftermath of Ramirez's controversial refusal to play last Wednesday, one day after Sox pitcher Matt Clement was carted off the field on a stretcher after being struck by a line drive and outfielder Trot Nixon strained an oblique (side) muscle, sidelining him indefinitely.
Ramirez, who had been promised a day off by Francona, elected to take it, despite the fact the Sox would be playing shorthanded. That provoked a clubhouse confrontation with pitcher Curt Schilling -- the players had to be separated by Ortiz, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the incident -- sharp criticism from the media and on the talk shows, and the suggestion, made by Lucchino on his weekly radio appearance on WEEI, that Ramirez's actions might be calculated to provoke a trade.
Friday night, when the Sox returned home to play the Twins, Ramirez was greeted with a mixture of boos and cheers. That day, the story broke that the Sox were in serious negotiations with the Mets and Devil Rays. Saturday, the situation appeared to reach critical mass when minutes before that night's game, Ramirez was pulled from the starting lineup. According to sources with direct knowledge of the incident, Ramirez had told Francona a half hour before the game he did not want to play, and when he changed his mind 15 minutes later, Francona told him he would be sitting.
After the game, Francona denied that Ramirez had told him he wouldn't play. Both sides had agreed, he said, that Ramirez would take the next two days off to allow the player time ''to clear his head." After the game, teammate David Wells took exception to Ramirez's actions, saying on the NESN postgame show that Ramirez ''is messing with my cake."
Ramirez's agent, Greg Genske, flew in from Chicago to meet Ramirez Saturday. Genske said yesterday that by airing Ramirez's trade demand publicly, the Sox were attempting to blame Ramirez for trade scenarios that the Sox ''definitely wanted to explore." Indeed, the Sox, seeking to come out from under Ramirez's contract to gain greater financial flexibility, have tried to move Ramirez in the past, most drastically in 2003, when they placed him on irrevocable waivers, when any team in baseball could have assumed his contract for the $1 waiver price.
''Manny got blasted for something both sides wanted to explore," Genske said. ''I don't know why they wanted to go public with it. At the end of the day, he could have been a Met if he wanted to. They told him they thought they could make a deal, and he made the decision that he'd rather stay with the Red Sox."
It's doubtful, according to the accounts from Sox officials and other major league executives, that a trade was not made simply because Ramirez decided he didn't want to leave after all. But in a bizarre scene before yesterday's game, he and teammate Kevin Millar walked into Francona's session with the media.
''I want to introduce you to Manny Ramirez," Millar said.
Ramirez waved a hand to reporters. ''I'm back," he said.
Francona said that Ramirez had approached him earlier that morning and asked to join the session.
''Manny wanted to have an opportunity where me and him were together so people don't think we're going to kill each other," said Francona, alluding to published reports that Ramirez and Francona did not get along.
Ramirez denied those reports.
''I never say that," said Ramirez, while Millar pretended to translate his remarks into Spanish. ''My situation with Tito is perfect, man. I don't have no problems with nobody here.
''The things that happened, I was supposed to get Sunday off in Chicago. I said, 'No, Tito. Why don't you give me Wednesday off.' So, OK, when Trot got hurt, one of the coaches [Brad Mills] came up to me and said, 'You still want Wednesday off? I told him, 'Yeah.'
''If they come up and tell me, 'Hey, I want you to play on Wednesday,' I'll play. I'm here to play. I'm a player. That's what happened. I'm not here because I don't want to play or whatever. I'm not that kind of guy."
Yesterday, Ramirez grabbed a bat again, and it was Manny happy returns.
Yes, the trade talk had bothered him, he said after the game.
''It was then I said, 'Man, we've been through a lot. This is the place to be.'
''Man, this is the best town in the world. They want to win, I want to win.
''I'm back. I'm happy to be here."