Had Joe Torre deigned to leave a note for his successor, Joe Girardi, advising him on the do's and don'ts of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, this almost certainly would have been at, or near, the top of his list:
DON'T pitch to Manny Ramírez if you can avoid it.
In the years (1996-2007) Torre managed the Yankees, he ordered Ramírez intentionally walked 23 times in the regular season. On five occasions, he had his catcher hold up four fingers twice in the same game.
Given the chance to do the same yesterday afternoon, Girardi opted to have Mike Mussina - who already had struck out the other half of Boston's pick-your-poison quandary, slump-ridden David Ortiz - pitch to Ramírez with two on and first base open in the sixth inning. Ramírez, who earlier had homered off Mussina, responded with a two-run double, driving in the go-ahead runs in a 4-3 Sox win over the Bombers that tied this three-game set at a game apiece headed into tonight's finale.
"You always want Manny to hit," said Dustin Pedroia, who followed Jacoby Ellsbury's single with a double prior to Ramírez's decisive hit, a first-pitch line drive that kicked off the Sox bullpen wall and rolled into the center-field triangle.
"I thought they were going to pitch around him, trying to get him to chase, but Manny came out on that first pitch and drove it into the gap. I'm sure that's not the way they wanted it to happen.
"It was definitely a great at-bat. Manny smells those RBIs, and they come in bunches."
Kevin Youkilis followed Ramírez's hit with an RBI single off reliever Brian Bruney to make it 4-2, the extra run pivotal when Robinson Cano doubled home the third Yankees' run in the seventh off Sox starter Josh Beckett.
Rain kept the outcome hanging in the balance. Jonathan Papelbon received a summons with two outs and two on in the eighth, then waited out a 2-hour-11-minute rain delay to strike out Alex Rodriguez on three pitches, the last clocked at 96 miles an hour on the scoreboard radar.
Papelbon, who kept himself occupied during the delay by riding an exercise bike, struck out two more Yankees in the ninth, then retired Cano after an 11-pitch duel, Cano fouling off five of the last six pitches, on a ground ball to second to earn his fourth save. Papelbon was, to extend Hank Steinbrenner's characterization, the "mouse" that roared.
"I'm not sure how he did it," said manager Terry Francona, who actually had Papelbon warm up once during the delay when the tarp had been peeled back and it appeared play would resume, only for more rain to push things back another hour.
"His stuff was phenomenal. I'm not sure what's better, his arm or his heart."
Mussina, a distinguished Stanford graduate in economics, was left to ponder the piles of empirical evidence pointing to the folly of challenging Ramírez, especially if the team doing the challenging is wearing pinstripes.
"Well, we talked about it on the bench, and went to talk to [Mussina]," Girardi said. "We talked about the comfort level with both hitters [Ramírez and the next batter, Kevin Youkilis] was basically the same, and we wanted to give him a little wiggle room. If he could get Manny to chase something . . . [or] if he got behind Manny, then we would walk him. But we never got to that point."
Instead, Ramírez added to his legacy of inflicting pain on the team just a short subway ride away from the neighborhood in which he grew up, Washington Heights.
His fourth-inning home run, which came with two outs and nobody on, was his 53d regular-season homer against the Bombers, one more than Carl Yastrzemski and tied with Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg for third on the all-time list, behind two Hall of Famers, Jimmie Foxx (70) and Ted Williams (62).
Ramírez's 155 RBIs against the Yankees are his most against any opponent. Only two players, Yaz (163) and Al Kaline (157), have knocked in more against the Bombers in the last half-century.
In 2006, Ramírez batted .556 (25 for 45) in 15 games against the Yankees, the highest average against the Bombers by any Sox player in 50 years, and is batting .456 (47 for 103) with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 30 games against the Yankees since the start of '06.
In his last 17 games against the Yankees in Fenway Park, dating to the start of the 2006 season and including yesterday's nationally televised affair, Ramírez is batting .544 (31 for 57) against the Yankees, with eight home runs and 23 RBIs.
And Mussina has been victimized by more than his share of Manny moments. Ramírez's home run yesterday was his seventh off the 39-year-old Moose. Only two pitchers, mushballer Jamie Moyer (10) and Worcester's Tanyon Sturtze (8), have given up more home runs to Ramírez. And Ramírez has driven in more runs against Mussina (21) than any other pitcher he's faced.
Initially, Sox first baseman Sean Casey said he had to respect Mussina's willingness to go after Boston's cleanup hitter. Then he was told of Ramírez's history against the Yankees' righthander.
"Then that wasn't a good idea," Casey said.
Ramírez, naturally, was long gone before the clubhouse doors opened, having been lifted in a defensive switch in the ninth and evidently having better things to do than to discuss the 492d home run of his career.
Mussina took a 2-1 lead into the sixth before Ellsbury slashed an opposite-field single and Pedroia lined a double off the Monster. Up came Ortiz, who'd already killed one rally when his check-swing tapper to Mussina turned into a double play after Ellsbury and Pedroia had opened the home first with singles.
The infield was playing back, conceding the tying run, when Ortiz, who had lined to right in the fourth, came to the plate, the expectations of a sellout crowd of 37,461 ringing in his ears. All the importuning in the world, however, was insufficient to keep Ortiz from going down on strikes, swinging and foul-tipping a 1-and-2 breaking ball.
The Yankees were held to a debatable hit through five innings (Cano's chopper to second dropped by Pedroia leading off the third) by Beckett, who was regularly hitting 97 miles per hour on the speed gun. They broke through in the top of the sixth.
Jose Molina grounded a single up the middle and rookie shortstop Alberto Gonzalez, playing because captain Derek Jeter remains sidelined with a strained left quadriceps, followed by lining a single to left. Johnny Damon bunted the runners over, Melky Cabrera's sacrifice fly to center scored Molina, and Beckett bounced a pitch to Bobby Abreu past Jason Varitek, Gonzalez scoring, before whiffing Abreu to end the inning.
The Yankees drew to within a run in the seventh when Jorge Posada singled, took second on another Beckett wild pitch, and scored on Cano's double off the Wall. That was all for Beckett, Manny Delcarmen entering to strike out Molina. Hideki Okajima issued a two-out walk to Cabrera, Abreu singled, Papelbon entered, and so did the rain.
"It wasn't raining that hard," said Pedroia, willing to play through, "but I guess they knew heavy stuff was coming. Long day."