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BOB RYAN

Here's a team he's ready to warm up to

A weekend of Fenway baseball merriment ended with Barry Bonds just where the Red Sox wanted him -- on deck.

Was he itching, festering, and just plain begging to get another shot at Hideki Okajima? You'd sure like to think so.

"We've had him since '93, and that was the first time I've ever seen him locked up like that," said Giants general manager Brian Sabean, referring to Saturday's game-deciding, five-pitch, five-takes, see-ya-later punchout with two on and none out in the eighth.

"Never seen him guess wrong three times," Sabean marveled. "Two and oh, he guesses fastball and gets a hook. Next pitch, guesses hook and gets fastball. Next pitch, he guesses hook again and gets fastball. Takes three straight strikes, and they were all strikes. Never seen anything like it."

That was clearly the highlight of a very nice Red Sox weekend. But it wasn't the end of Mr. Okajima's contributions. Summoned by manager Terry Francona after Omar Vizquel led off the ninth inning of yesterday's 9-5 conquest with a single, he routinely dispatched Dave Roberts (called third strike), Randy Winn (fly to fairly deep center), and Ray Durham (routine fly to center), leaving Mr. Bonds on deck. Unless the polarizing Giants slugger undertakes a pursuit of 800 homers and thus relocates to the American League as a DH next season, he has likely seen Hideki Okajima for the one and only time in his career.

(And, yes, I have considered the possibility of an '07 World Series Sox-Jints re match. Ain't gonna happen.)

Or, let's put it this way: One of these teams might very well be playing in late October, but it is not going to be the San Francisco Giants.

I'm not officially calling anything. No way I'm putting my hand on that stove. But the fact is there is no reason for anyone to feel anything but good about the 2007 Boston Red Sox as they head out for a nine-game jaunt to Atlanta, San Diego, and Seattle.

Yes, there were questions about the Yankees, and now they're being answered. They're getting like 120 runs a day and their starting pitchers are going deeper into the game. They are, in other words, playing up to their $200 million potential. But they did spot their major rival that 14 1/2-game lead, and that counts for something. Did someone out there think the Red Sox were going to win the division by 20 games?

It sure seemed like a good weekend to me. The Red Sox won two with offense and one with pitching. They needed a big game from Daisuke Matsuzaka and they got it. Sooner or later, he is going to just lock in and then the real fun will start.

"The real positive," submitted Alex Cora, a man of exceptionally sound judgment, "was the left fielder. Everyone's been talking about the weather. The last two days, it's been hot, and he's looking pretty good up there."

Indeed Manny Ramírez provided his team with its only run Saturday when he put one in the Monster Seats. And he put the cherry on the Sunday sundae with another solo shot to the overpriced, glorified bleacher seats (well, they are) in the seventh. It was the first time in 2007 he had homered on successive days. Could this be the beginning of the certified Manny power surge we've been waiting for all season?

Terry Francona wouldn't go there. "That's not the be-all and end-all for us," he maintained. "It's just not the end-all, be-all. The three-run homers are great, and we'll get our share of them from those guys [David Ortiz and Ramírez]. But when they have good at-bats, we're in good shape."

Now that's real good skipper-speak right there, and I know he and batting coach Dave Magadan probably do talk about their power hitters in terms of "having their weight under them," and "good balance" and "staying in the strike zone" and "keeping the line moving and hitting the ball the other way" when they have their uniforms on, but I choose to believe Terry Francona also sits around on the plane and says to Dave Magadan, "When exactly is Manny going to start hitting the [censored] out of the ball?" Francona knows that Manny needs to pick it up NOW if he's going to be the 30-100 guy he's always been. And maybe he has.

Let's go back to Mr. Cora for more sober analysis of his team. "We were playing incredible ball for a while," he said. "Now we're playing solid ball. If we play this kind of solid ball the rest of the season, we'll pick up the wins."

One of the keys yesterday was the very first Red Sox at-bat when J.D. Drew doubled up the gap off San Francisco starter Matt Morris, who had come in with impressive numbers (7-3, 2.56), and who was coming off a complete-game victory over the Blue Jays. "He put pressure on him right away," said Francona. That two-bagger set up a two-run first inning, and Morris would go on to post his worst outing of the season, giving up eight earned runs in four innings. It would appear, by the way, that Drew is your leadoff hitter until further notice.

"Actually," said Francona, "the way he hits, he can hit anywhere, but he fits that [ role] pretty well. But you have to have a good enough lineup where you can do something like that. And with the emergence of [Kevin] Youkilis, it allows us to do it."

The big bonus for the crowd of 36,137 came in the sixth when Bonds hit a 1-0 pitch from Tim Wakefield that just kept going and going and going until it plopped into the San Francisco bullpen. I mean, halfway there I had already put the "9" down in my scorebook. But the ball had some serious carry. (Aside to Fenway historians: It wouldn't have been a homer in 1939, pre-"Williamsburg.")

"I wish he had hit it on another night because the ball was really flying today," Francona said. "The ballpark wasn't real big today."

But a home run it was, his 14th of the season and number 748 lifetime. Something to tell the grandkids. The one bad thing was that it didn't go in the stands, so we'll never know whether or not it would have been thrown back. Anyway, it was folded into a perfect Sox fan scenario. Sox sweep, but you get to see a teeny slice of history.

Ah, but I wonder which Boston memory will linger longer for Barry: the home run in his 36th different ballpark or the three bad guesses on Saturday?

Judging from the way he spent the entire ninth inning Saturday with his head buried in his hands I think I already have my answer.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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