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Jackie MacMullan

His response was intentional

The ball vaulted over the Coke bottles, sailing out of the night and right into morning, and with it soared the fortunes of the Red Sox, who, denied an opportunity to allow their beloved slugger, David Ortiz, to win it for them, happily laid their fortunes of this Division Series on the bat of their other basher, the bewildering, yet ultimately redoubtable slugger - the one and the only Manny Ramírez.

With Boston and Anaheim knotted in a seemingly unbreakable 3-3 tie in the ninth inning last night, Manny strode to the plate with two on and two out. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who had decided he wanted no part of Ortiz, intentionally walked him one batter earlier, leaving Francisco Rodriguez to close out Manny.

"In that situation, that guy has gotten me out so many times," said Ramírez in a rare postgame interview. "But baseball's like that. Sometimes you get me, sometimes I get you."

And oh, did Manny get all of Rodriguez. He absolutely crushed the 1-and-0 pitch over the Wall, and he knew it immediately. As soon as the ball jumped off his bat, he dropped the lumber, raised his arms triumphantly, then stood for a moment to admire his handiwork.

After gleefully skipping around the bases, he threw off his helmet and welcomed the embrace of his teammates at home plate.

The titantic home run capped a grueling 4-hour-5-minute marathon and enabled the Red Sox to hit the road with an opportunity to sweep the battered Angels. It was a brutal way to lose a 6-3 ballgame, and the dramatic fashion in which Manny stole the spotlight bodes well for Boston's next outing. The strategy to eliminate Ortiz from the offensive equation backfired.

"That's why you have as many hitters as you can," said Sox manager Terry Francona, "so they can't pitch around people."

You wonder if Manny is motivated by such slights. He referred to himself twice as the best hitter in the game during his postgame chat, yet feigned indifference when asked if he felt extra incentive to make Scioscia pay for his perceived disrespect.

"It's just a little game he's playing," Ramírez shrugged. "But I try to be patient. Patience is the key, and confidence in myself. "

So, how did it feel to knock one out after such a long long-ball drought?

"It feels great," said a buoyant Ramírez. "It's been a long time since I've done something special like that. But I haven't been right all year long. When you don't feel good and still get hits, that's when you know you're a bad man."

Ramírez is right. It has been a long time since he's delivered a hit of that magnitude. His last home run of any kind was Aug. 28, when he went deep on the Yankees, then removed himself from the game with a strained oblique muscle that would keep him sidelined for the next 24 games. His team would struggle in his absence, limping toward the finish line with a lineup that simply wasn't as potent without him.

This was Manny's first career walkoff home run in the postseason. The last time he hit a walkoff homer of any kind was September 1996, when he was wearing the uniform of the Cleveland Indians.

Ramírez, who has chosen to keep his own counsel this season, revealed last night that it has been a physical struggle for him all year.

"Just my timing all year hasn't been right," he explained. "But man, like I said, even when I'm not right, I get hits. So you know, I just go to battle, keep preparing."

Baseball is always an adventure when Ramírez is involved, and last night was no exception. In the fifth, after Dustin Pedroia doubled, and Kevin Youkilis moved him to third, Scioscia decided to intentionally walk Ortiz, setting up Manny's first opportunity to produce in the clutch.

Instead, he fouled a ball off to the first base side that was about to settle in the glove of catcher Jeff Mathis, until a teenage fan literally grabbed it out of his mitt.

That gave Manny - and the Red Sox - new life. Ramírez waited out his own walk, and Mike Lowell followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the score.

When Manny found himself up again in the ninth after another intentional walk to Ortiz, his teammates began stirring in the dugout.

"We were all sitting there saying, 'C'mon, Manny, it's your time,' " reported Pedroia. "They keep walking David and walking David and you just know Manny is going to bite you."

In the aftermath of his heroic evening, Ramirez told TBS the clock was running out in the game (huh?) so he had to get a hit. He also said that catcher Jason Varitek instructed him to go deep with it.

"What? No, no, no, no," insisted Varitek. "I think Manny probably just wanted to get a base hit there, but he really tattooed the ball. Manny is still hitting his stride. He's only had about 30 at-bats or so since he got back. It's nice to see him swing the bat like that."

When he is right, Ramírez is arguably the best hitter in baseball. By his own admission, he hasn't been right for much of 2007. Last night, that theory was hit out of the park, over the Coke bottles and into a new chapter of Manny lore.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at macmullan@globe.com.

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