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Ramírez will rest during break

CHICAGO -- They were keeping some hotel rooms open in Pittsburgh for him, and Phyllis Merhige, who coordinates such things for Major League Baseball, said yesterday morning she had his tickets in hand, the ones MLB provides for family and friends of All-Stars.

But yesterday afternoon came a terse statement from MLB that Manny Ramírez ``will not attend this year's All-Star festivities," and that American League manager Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox had named Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez as Ramírez's replacement. Houston pitcher Roy Oswalt was added to the NL squad, taking the place of the injured Pedro Martínez.

Evidently, baseball officials at the highest levels, up to and including commissioner Bud Selig, became persuaded that they were not going to change Ramírez's mind. While MLB officials had said that until they heard directly from Ramírez or his representatives that he was out, there were some indications MLB had heard from a Sox executive that Ramírez was intent on missing the event.

Ramírez, as is his wont, has remained silent. Last week, when the All-Star squads were announced and he was the team's leading vote-getter, he said, ``No thank you," and walked away when a reporter asked if he would play.

After his withdrawal was announced by MLB, a statement purporting to be from Ramírez came out of the office of his agent, Greg Genske. In it, Ramírez thanked the ``millions of fans" who voted for him, said he was ``truly honored," and acknowledged the ``value and importance" of the All-Star Game.

``Throughout most of the 2006 season, I have been playing with soreness in my right knee," the statement said. ``After much consultation and discussion with my team, we have decided that it is necessary for me to rest my knee over the three-day All-Star break.

``Thank you very much for your understanding -- Manny Ramírez."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona yesterday reiterated it was best for Ramírez to rest his knee. ``I watched him in Tampa -- I could tell it hurt," Francona said.

Ramírez went 0 for 5 last night and is hitting .305 with 24 home runs and 65 RBIs. Through the first eight games of this trip, he is 11 for 31 with 4 home runs and 12 RBIs.

To date, there have been 14 games in which Ramírez has played fewer than eight innings, most of them blowouts. Since May 21, Ramírez has been pulled early eight times.

Strong ties
There are some striking parallels between the home run duel David Ortiz is waging with Jim Thome of the White Sox and the epic duel between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire that captivated baseball in 1998. Once again, a Dominican strongman with a catchy nickname -- Big Papi -- is up against a strapping native strongman of Bunyanesque dimensions -- Thome, from Peoria, Ill., in America's heartland, much like Slammin' Sammy vs. Big Mac, a southern Californian. Although Sosa and McGwire developed a relationship of considerable warmth and mutual respect, nothing had to be manufactured between Ortiz and Thome, who became friends when Ortiz was with the Twins and Thome with the Indians, both in the AL Central.

``I love Thome, man, he's my brother," Ortiz said. ``When we were in the Central, I was a baby when he was hitting home runs. I used to wear him out with questions. Unbelievable. He's a great dude. We have pretty much the same personality. The dude is so strong, I knew that when he got fixed [Thome had back and elbow problems in Philadelphia] that he'd be back. He hit a home run to left field in Minnesota, where no lefthanded hitters hit home runs, that went so far it was disgusting."

The big difference is that Sosa's and McGwire's achievements have been tainted by baseball's steroid scandal; neither Thome nor Ortiz have been similarly implicated, although Ortiz has said on numerous occasions he has heard rumors circulating about him.

Neither player could have been much hotter. Ortiz has seven home runs and 14 RBIs in seven games, including Thursday night's two-homer, six-RBI performance against the Devil Rays, then hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat last night. Thome is batting .296 with 29 home runs and 75 RBIs, including Thursday night's two-homer, six-RBI performance against the Orioles. Both players hit grand slams Thursday night.

More Ortiz-Thome comparisons: Thome was tied with Troy Glaus of the Blue Jays for most home runs at home with 16. Ortiz led the league in home runs on the road with 19 (Ramírez is second with 14, Thome third with 13). Ortiz had eight home runs against lefthanders, tied for fifth in the league. Thome had 25 homers against righthanders, most in the league. Ortiz and Ramírez were tied for second with 21. Thome had 41 RBIs at home, tied for third. Ortiz was just behind with 40. Ortiz led the league with 42 RBIs on the road. Thome was tied for third with 34. Thome led the league in home run ratio, with 1 every 9.4 at-bats. Ortiz was third, at 1 per 10.7 (Jason Giambi of the Yankees is second at 1 per 9.8).

Ortiz did some behind-the-scenes work with hitting coach Ron Jackson before embarking on his current hot streak. Jackson noticed that Ortiz was wrapping his bat too much around his head, and because his hands are so quick, he didn't notice it was causing Ortiz to open up his hips too much. ``We watched some video from last year, when he hit those home runs against Tampa Bay, and he saw how he was cheating because he had the bat wrapped around so much," Jackson said. ``Now he's starting here, and he can handle any pitch, away, middle in."

Early projections
Mike Hazen, the team's first-year director of player development, when asked for an early review on Jason Place, the South Carolina high schooler who was the Red Sox' first-round draft choice and is currently playing for the team's rookie-league entry in Fort Myers, Fla.: ``I was down there before we started games with him but he has done pretty well to start the season. Obviously he's learning what pro ball and playing every day is all about. His defense in center field and base running have been outstanding and he shows a real ability to impact the ball to all fields. We are working on some fundamental setup and load things with his swing that he has taken to pretty quickly." In his first nine games as a pro, Place was batting .269 (7 for 26) with no home runs and 2 RBIs . . . Negotiations with Boston's other first-round pick, North Carolina righthander Daniel Bard, were ongoing. The plan is for Bard to report to short-season Lowell if he signs by early August . . . Tim Wakefield has soreness in his back that has caused Francona to shuffle his rotation after the All-Star break. Instead of giving rookie Jon Lester a couple of extra days off, Lester will pitch Thursday at Fenway Park in the first game after the break, with Wakefield going fourth . . . Francona said there are no physical issues contributing to Coco Crisp's hitting woes. ``He's frustrated," Francona said before the game. ``But when a couple of balls fall in or he beats out a couple of hits, he'll come around." Crisp's slump extended to 0 for 23 before he picked up a couple of hits last night.

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