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Personally, Maddon’s not mad

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 12, 2011

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In a way, both “Idiots’’ came as billed.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon genuinely seemed to like Manny Ramirez and he loves Johnny Damon.

Maybe over time he would have been driven crazy by Ramirez’s antics, but in the brief time Ramirez was a Ray, Maddon enjoyed him and was thus saddened to hear of his retirement last week after Major League Baseball informed Ramirez of another positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, a second offense that would have resulted in a 100-game suspension.

“Never really got going in the first place,’’ said Maddon of the relationship. “Very sincerely, I really enjoyed him, we had a lot of good conversations in spring training and I thought he was going to help us this year a lot and obviously that’s not going to turn out that way. For me to him personally, it was very good, organizationally it’s not so good. We counted on him to be the No. 4 hitter behind Longo [Evan Longoria] so we’re making adjustments now.’’

Conversely, Damon is, according to Maddon, “Outstanding. Everything as advertised. Really enjoy being around him. Easy to speak with. Always in a good mood, always willing to give his time to somebody else. Tremendous energy every day. He’s been great so far.’’

Maddon was probably like many other managers who had Ramirez in the past. They all thought they could get through to him. They all thought things would be different.

“You always do,’’ Maddon said. “You have to approach it that way. You can’t approach it waiting for the shoe to fall even though it may, but I wasn’t anticipating it. We got off to a good start. You always feel you can be the one to make it somewhat different, but in this case I could not.’’

Regarding Ramirez’s retirement, “I was totally shocked,’’ he said. “I had no inkling whatsoever. I really thought he was away attending family business. I was working out in the little workout facility in Chicago last Thursday. Got a call from [general manager] Andrew [Friedman] and he told me what had happened. I already had the lineup made out for that night with him in it.

“It’s a letdown because we were counting on him, I really felt good about it. I sincerely did. I thought he was moving really well and I thought he was happy. Those are the indicators I had. I was looking forward to working with him. I really thought that it was going to benefit all of us, but we never got that chance.’’

The Rays certainly thought Damon would help keep Ramirez under control. He was always one to look out for Manny.

The last time Damon saw Ramirez, he was “walking out of our clubhouse in Tampa. He said he’d see us in Chicago. At that moment I thought he wasn’t going to show up. For whatever reason, I didn’t think he was going to show up.’’

Any idea why he would go back to taking a banned substance?

“I have no idea,’’ Damon said. “Manny is the one who can answer these questions so much more than I can. I couldn’t believe it. You get busted one time, you’re not gonna get busted again. It shocked us all. We thought it was a different personal matter than what came out. It’s sad. I feel bad for Manny that his career is ending this way. I hope he has a great rest of his life. I’m sure I’ll catch up with him in the future.’’

Damon, like the rest of us, never understood how such a talented hitter could be so aloof. So in his own world. And now it’s cost him his legacy, and likely his spot in the Hall of Fame.

“Yeah, it’s sad,’’ Damon said. “With those numbers and what [Rafael] Palmeiro has and [Mark] McGwire has, it’s sad. But the numbers are always going to be there. Whether people believe their stories will be determined by guys like you for many years. I know Manny had a great career. Hopefully one day they’ll retire his number up here.’’

Ah, probably not.

Last night, Damon homered in the first inning and seemed to get the Rays going against the embattled Daisuke Matsuzaka.

“It was great coming back in there on a different team other than the Yankees,’’ said Damon, who had three hits and three RBIs in his Fenway return. “[The reaction was] a little more mixed. I was very happy to hear some of the cheers. I wasn’t sure what to do. Normally, it’s a tip of the cap. It’s been six years.’’

The Rays entered last night’s game with a major league-low 20 runs, and nearly matched that by thrashing the Sox, 16-5.

“We’re much better than that,’’ Maddon said before the game. “We are missing our 3-4 hitters and guys are being pressed into service that weren’t expecting to. It’s created chaos mechanically. But I have full faith we’re going to climb back into this thing.’’

Last night was a nice start.

“The consolation prize is the Sox have been struggling too, and the ascension of the Blue Jays and Orioles, you don’t know how that’s gonna turn out over the long haul,’’ said Maddon. “If the Sox and Yanks were running away with everything right now it could be more disconcerting. I don’t want to get too carried away with it because when we went to the World Series we had two seven-game losing streaks. We’ve lived through bad moments before. It’s always exaggerated in the beginning.’’

Maddon said it’s tough to look over and see Carl Crawford on the other side, especially with Ramirez gone. But he hopes Damon and young outfielder Sam Fuld can replace a great percentage of what Crawford provided.

Maddon recently got a call from Ramirez, and while Manny didn’t apologize he left the manager with a good impression.

“He was very kind in his comments. He expressed disappointment in himself but also had high praise for us as an organization so I felt good about that,’’ Maddon said. “I am not a judgmental person by nature. I took him for his word. In the future, if we cross paths, I want to consider him a friend.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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