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ON BASEBALL

Ramirez enjoying view

BALTIMORE -- Manny Ramirez, scoreboard watcher?

What a concept.

''I have no idea what he's watching," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said last night. ''I've seen him look up that way. I've seen him look a lot of ways. I don't know.

''But to answer you seriously, I think he knows we depend on him a lot. I think he knows that."

Whether Ramirez noticed that the Yankees already were ahead of the Blue Jays in New York even before the national anthem was played here, or that the Indians soon would open a big lead on the Royals in Kansas City, was immaterial to the night he had in Boston's 6-3 win over the Orioles, allowing the Sox to keep pace in the playoff race.

Ramirez was providing his own applause lines -- and clapping his hands enthusiastically each time -- when he hustled down the line on a pivotal throwing error by Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada in the Sox' three-run fifth, and again when he pounded his 40th home run with Edgar Renteria aboard in the seventh. He also singled home Renteria to give Bronson Arroyo a 1-0 lead in the first.

''I'm sure he knew [the Yankees score]," said Kevin Millar before hustling back to the team's hotel to watch coverage of Hurricane Rita, with his home in Beaumont, Texas, in harm's way. ''He's not as stupid as he plays, you know what I'm saying?"

Ramirez, who has hit 40 or more home runs in a season five times in his career, joined Carl Yastrzemski as the only players to hit 40 or more in three seasons while wearing a Sox uniform. He has four home runs in his last three games, and seven in his last 13, after a 17-game stretch in which he did not go deep.

On a night that David Ortiz went hitless in five at-bats (although it's a matter of debate whether a second baseman playing on the outfield grass, 160 feet from home plate, should be charged with an error when Ortiz's ground ball goes through his leg, as was the case last night), Ramirez had cause to clap, not only for himself, but for Trot Nixon, who whacked a two-run double after Tejada's error.

It's been a tough couple of days for Tejada, who is the lone reason Orioles fans have to cheer these days. His name surfaced in newspaper reports as the teammate Rafael Palmeiro, who was suspended for failing a steroid test, told a grievance panel Tejada gave him a substance later identified as vitamin B-12. That is not a steroid and is legal, of course, and in the Sox clubhouse, Ortiz said he frequently has injections of B-12 to prevent from running down during the season. ''I give B-12 to my kids, too," he said. ''Tablets. We have injections because it gets into our bloodstream faster that way."

Ortiz said that after talking to his agent, Fern Cuza, who also represents Tejada, he doesn't believe Palmeiro was ratting out Tejada, even if it was reported that way. And of course, he said, he was surprised to see Tejada throw away Ramirez's ground ball with two on, two outs, and the Orioles holding a 3-1 lead.

''Miggy is a great defensive shortstop," Ortiz said. ''We're not perfect out there. People should enjoy that because they're not going to get too many of those."

Even though Ramirez hit his 39th home run in Wednesday's 7-4 loss to the Devil Rays at Tropicana Field, much was made of his trot to first on a comebacker to the mound, his indifference taking on a more damning cast when pitcher Scott Kazmir nearly threw the ball away. But in a clubhouse accustomed to such moments, it barely registered. For a team that has nine games left to make up a one-game deficit to the Yankees in the division race or a 1 1/2-game deficit to the Indians in the wild-card race, what matters is that Ramirez is hitting again at the best possible time.

''It means we have one of the most dangerous hitters in the game hitting back-to-back with David," Francona said. ''When Manny gets hot, he's not going to hit singles. I hope he hits a bunch of homers."

Is Ramirez locked in? In the seventh, he lingered in the on-deck circle, assuming that Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, who had righthander Chris Ray warming in the bullpen, would bring in the righty to replace lefthander Eric DuBose. But Perlozzo stayed with DuBose, citing Ramirez's 0 for 5 against DuBose in previous at-bats. Make that 1 for 6, Ramirez crushing a full-count pitch deep into the bullpens in left-center.

''We got him locked in," Millar said, ''because we've been saying, you'd better not let David beat you in home runs and RBIs. We've been on his butt, and now he's starting to catch him."

Ortiz, with 46 home runs and 140 RBIs, probably won't be overtaken by Ramirez (40 and 132), though Big Papi confirmed he's been letting Ramirez hear about it.

''I always give him some trash about it," Ortiz said. ''Manny says, 'Here I am, better hurry.' I say, 'You better hurry.' "

No need to explain the urgency. All Ramirez has to do is look up at the scoreboard.

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