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L.A.-Boston Series full of promise

As a baseball lover, it pains me to read that TV ratings for this year's four division series were down by 24 percent over the previous year. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, it stings even more to find that the absence of the Yankees was probably the biggest factor.

How can you call yourself a baseball fan and tune out just because the Yankees miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 years? I don't miss them at all. What was so fascinating about Alex Rodriguez popping out in the clutch?

This is one of the most compelling postseasons in recent memory. You had both Chicago teams, both L.A. teams, and two traditional franchises, Boston and Philadelphia. The Brewers got in for the first time in 26 years. Tampa Bay made it for the first time a year after finishing with baseball's worst record.

None of the series went the distance. But the league championship series should make for great drama. In the AL, the defending champion Red Sox face the upstart Rays. In the NL, the Dodgers, who haven't won the World Series in 20 years, face the Phillies, who have won it only once.

There's no clear favorite. The Red Sox have that intangible, winning quality of a champion. The Rays had the best home record (57-24) of any team since the '98 Yanks. They proved in a June brawl at Fenway Park that they won't back down. The Dodgers and Phils have power, speed, depth and solid starting pitching.

Whatever happens, the World Series is going to feature a different look. The Red Sox last played the Phillies in the Series in 1915, and the Dodgers in the Series in 1916. None of the four possible matchups would surprise me.

But I can't resist. I can sense it coming, like trains approaching on the same track from opposite directions. Maybe it's the Sox fan in me, or the writer who roots for the best story, but I see the Red Sox and Dodgers playing for it all.

How sweet would it be to see Joe Torre manage the Dodgers in the Series, less than a year after getting pushed out by the Yanks -- and to meet up with the Red Sox, who handed him his most ignominious defeat in the 2004 ALCS?

Something tells me the ratings will get a jolt if Manny Ramirez returns to Fenway Park with the Dodgers. The Boston fans will have a field day with Ramirez. They'll boo their lungs out every time he steps to the plate.

They ought to boo. Ramirez quit on the Red Sox this year. He essentially withheld his services so the Sox would trade him and allow him to become a free agent after the season.

One Internet columnist wrote a rambling defense of Ramirez that made him out to be some kind of victim. Give me a break. It's like defending the people behind the sub-prime mortgage fiasco.

Ramirez is one of the best hitters in recent times, a sure Hall of Famer. But when he left Boston, I was on my chair applauding. I've never liked him as a player. He's a bad fielder, a poor baserunner and a self-indulgent clown.

True, the Dodgers took off after getting him. But the Red Sox were much better without him, too. Jason Bay has been a solid addition. Bay hit .293 after coming to Boston. He's a better all-around player. He's six years younger. In the division series against the Angels, he hit the game-winning homer in Game One and scored the series clincher in Game Four.

Bay is 30 and in his prime. Ramirez is 36. I'll take Bay any time. Just watch. Someone will give Ramirez that big contract and he'll have a mysterious drop in motivation. His apologists will tell us it's just "Manny being Manny," as if that excuses childish behavior.

For Sox fans, the charm wore off long ago. Nothing would be sweeter than seeing the Red Sox shut him down in the Series. Of course, it won't exactly break my heart if the Phillies do it first.


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