Manny Ramirez’s return to Fenway headlines interleague action

With four-plus months until the World Series, the list of contenders remains lengthy. So many clubs have a legitimate chance that this weekend’s interleague schedule includes at least three potential Fall Classic matchups — each of which features one of the past three world champions.

Each comes with a story line that brings plenty of intrigue for June, much less October.

Will Manny Ramirez be booed at Fenway Park?
Will Manny Ramirez be booed at Fenway Park?

Dodgers at Red Sox

The Boston newspapers have been conducting surveys in anticipation of Manny Ramirez’s return to Fenway Park: Will he be booed or cheered? The results have been mixed enough that no one knows what to expect, including his former teammates. "I don’t know how this one is going to go," catcher Jason Varitek told The Boston Globe.

Ramirez was the Red Sox’s best — and most controversial — player for most of the previous decade. He was MVP of the World Series that ended the Boston’s 86-year championship drought. He hit .348 in the 2007 playoff run that resulted in a second World Series title. In his seven-plus seasons in Boston, he hit .312 and averaged more than 34 homers and 108 RBIs.

Of course, Ramirez also loafed his way out of town and ripped into the Red Sox upon his arrival on the West Coast. He became an instant hit in Hollywood before he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs early in the 2009 season. Since returning from a 50-game suspension last July, he hasn’t been the same. In 125 games, he has hit .278 — 35 points below his career mark — with 20 homers, though he also has a team-best .388 OBP.

Don’t ask Manny what kind of reception he anticipates. He hasn’t done interviews this season, and Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton said Manny hasn’t said much to his teammates about his return to Boston. "But he knows it’ll be a big deal," Broxton says. "Oh yeah."

Twins at Phillies

One of the season’s biggest mysteries is Philadelphia’s offensive struggles. The Phillies have the most potent lineup in the National League but rank last in the majors in runs scored over the past four weeks (since May 22). They were shut out four times in a five-game stretch and have failed to score more than three runs in 11 other games. As a result, they have gone leading from the NL East by 3 1/2 games to third place.

Philadelphia’s problems could be fixed with the return of leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins from the disabled list. Limited to 12 games this season because of a bad right calf, Rollins has spent the week in Florida on rehab assignment and could return Tuesday.

Rollins could return to face a Minnesota club that never has played in Citizens Bank Park. The last time the Twins played in Philadelphia was 2002 when Joe Mauer was in Class A, Johan Santana was the starting pitcher and Torii Hunter hit a pinch-hit home run. And the Phillies were in last place.

Phil Hughes faces the Mets Saturday.
Phil Hughes faces the Mets Saturday.

Mets at Yankees

Now this is a rematch. Four weeks after the Mets took two of three against the Yankees at Citi Field, the clubs meet again at Yankee Stadium — with the identical pitching matchups.

After two of the season’s most successful young starters, Mike Pelfrey and Phil Hughes, square off Saturday for the second time, Santana and CC Sabathia will meet Sunday in a nationally televised game on TBS.

Since Santana outpitched Sabathia in the team’s last meeting, the Mets have turned around their season. They have gone an NL-best 17-5 to move from last place in the NL East to second, just a half-game behind the Braves.

"It’s the starting pitching," says TBS analyst Dennis Eckersley. Since that May 23 win against the Yankees, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA, Mike Pelfrey is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA, Jonathon Niese is 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA and the ace, Santana, is a mere 2-1 with a 2.23 ERA.

Two other reasons: The Mets are playing well at home and have taken advantage of a soft spot in their schedule.

"Maybe they have a different way of going about it offensively now that they’ve been there (for more than a year)," Eckersley says. "And they just won six in a row against Baltimore and Cleveland. Come on."

A weak opponent isn’t something the Mets will be dealing with in the Bronx. But who knows? If they continue their strong play, perhaps these teams will meet again — in four-plus months.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

With four-plus months until the World Series, the list of contenders remains lengthy. So many clubs have a legitimate chance that this weekend’s interleague schedule includes at least three potential Fall Classic matchups — each of which features one of the past three world champions.

Each comes with a story line that brings plenty of intrigue for June, much less October.

Will Manny Ramirez be booed at Fenway Park?
Will Manny Ramirez be booed at Fenway Park?

Dodgers at Red Sox

The Boston newspapers have been conducting surveys in anticipation of Manny Ramirez’s return to Fenway Park: Will he be booed or cheered? The results have been mixed enough that no one knows what to expect, including his former teammates. "I don’t know how this one is going to go," catcher Jason Varitek told The Boston Globe.

Ramirez was the Red Sox’s best — and most controversial — player for most of the previous decade. He was MVP of the World Series that ended the Boston’s 86-year championship drought. He hit .348 in the 2007 playoff run that resulted in a second World Series title. In his seven-plus seasons in Boston, he hit .312 and averaged more than 34 homers and 108 RBIs.

Of course, Ramirez also loafed his way out of town and ripped into the Red Sox upon his arrival on the West Coast. He became an instant hit in Hollywood before he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs early in the 2009 season. Since returning from a 50-game suspension last July, he hasn’t been the same. In 125 games, he has hit .278 — 35 points below his career mark — with 20 homers, though he also has a team-best .388 OBP.

Don’t ask Manny what kind of reception he anticipates. He hasn’t done interviews this season, and Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton said Manny hasn’t said much to his teammates about his return to Boston. "But he knows it’ll be a big deal," Broxton says. "Oh yeah."

Twins at Phillies

One of the season’s biggest mysteries is Philadelphia’s offensive struggles. The Phillies have the most potent lineup in the National League but rank last in the majors in runs scored over the past four weeks (since May 22). They were shut out four times in a five-game stretch and have failed to score more than three runs in 11 other games. As a result, they have gone leading from the NL East by 3 1/2 games to third place.

Philadelphia’s problems could be fixed with the return of leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins from the disabled list. Limited to 12 games this season because of a bad right calf, Rollins has spent the week in Florida on rehab assignment and could return Tuesday.

Rollins could return to face a Minnesota club that never has played in Citizens Bank Park. The last time the Twins played in Philadelphia was 2002 when Joe Mauer was in Class A, Johan Santana was the starting pitcher and Torii Hunter hit a pinch-hit home run. And the Phillies were in last place.

Phil Hughes faces the Mets Saturday.
Phil Hughes faces the Mets Saturday.

Mets at Yankees

Now this is a rematch. Four weeks after the Mets took two of three against the Yankees at Citi Field, the clubs meet again at Yankee Stadium — with the identical pitching matchups.

After two of the season’s most successful young starters, Mike Pelfrey and Phil Hughes, square off Saturday for the second time, Santana and CC Sabathia will meet Sunday in a nationally televised game on TBS.

Since Santana outpitched Sabathia in the team’s last meeting, the Mets have turned around their season. They have gone an NL-best 17-5 to move from last place in the NL East to second, just a half-game behind the Braves.

"It’s the starting pitching," says TBS analyst Dennis Eckersley. Since that May 23 win against the Yankees, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA, Mike Pelfrey is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA, Jonathon Niese is 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA and the ace, Santana, is a mere 2-1 with a 2.23 ERA.

Two other reasons: The Mets are playing well at home and have taken advantage of a soft spot in their schedule.

"Maybe they have a different way of going about it offensively now that they’ve been there (for more than a year)," Eckersley says. "And they just won six in a row against Baltimore and Cleveland. Come on."

A weak opponent isn’t something the Mets will be dealing with in the Bronx. But who knows? If they continue their strong play, perhaps these teams will meet again — in four-plus months.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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