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METS BACK OFF MANNY <br> DEAL WITH RED SOX, DEVIL RAYS WAS IN THE WORKS

A blockbuster three-team trade that would have landed Manny Ramirez in New York was ultimately nixed by the Mets on Friday night because they would have had to inherit the remaining $64 million on the moody Boston Red Sox slugger's contract.

The trade, which was actively discussed all day Friday, would have sent Ramirez along with Tampa Bay closer Danys Baez to the Mets, with Braden Looper, Mike Cameron and Tampa Bay lefty slugger Aubrey Huff going to the Red Sox.

The Devil Rays then were to get Red Sox pitching prospect Anibal Sanchez and a top prospect from the Mets, believed to be Lastings Milledge.

"This deal was very close to happening," a high-placed baseball source familiar with the negotiations told the New York Daily News. "When you think about it, despite Manny's money, it's unbelievable the Mets would back out of this. It would've gotten them into the playoffs and been a bonanza for their TV network next year."

Because of all of those potential upsides for the Mets, there was a chance the deal might yet be revived, although a Boston source told the Daily News that the Red Sox were not prepared to pay any of the money owed Ramirez.

Ramirez will be a 1 0/5 player after this year -- 10 years in the majors, five with one team -- and will have veto power on trades after this season. He entered the weekend atop the American League in homers (28) and RBI (92) but recently requested a trade, citing privacy issues, according to reports out of Boston.

With the nonwaiver trading deadline arriving at 4 p.m. Sunday, the Mets have been searching for a big bat to add to the lineup as well as bullpen help.

Omar Minaya, on a conference call with reporters before Friday's Mets-Astros game, didn't assign any odds to the Mets making an acquisition -- major or minor.

"Hey guys, if you're talking, you have a chance to get something done," he said.

On the field, Morgan Ensberg, Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio homered, and rookie Wandy Rodriguez had his third straight solid start, leading the Astros past the Mets, 5-2, to continue their amazing July run.

Houston won for the 12th time in 13 games and 21st time this month, breaking a club record set in 1976.

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