BOSTON -- Andre Ethier could have been forgiven for not realizing exactly what was going on, for not being sure why Fenway Park suddenly got a lot louder as he stepped into the batter's box in the top of the first inning Friday night.
Turns out, whatever the noise was -- some said it was mostly cheers, some said it was mostly boos, but it was definitely a mixture of both -- was for the guy who had just popped out of the dugout and walked into the on-deck circle.
Welcome back to Boston, Manny Ramirez.
The Fenway faithful didn't even wait for their former hero-turned-antihero to come to bat, which he wound up not doing until the second inning because Ethier grounded out to end the first. They greeted him with whatever that loud noise was the first time they caught a glimpse of him during the game, in which Ramirez's former team, the Boston Red Sox, trounced his current one, the Los Angeles Dodgers, 10-6 before 37,723.
Now in its 99th season of baseball, the famous old yard isn't exactly a testament to modern acoustics, so it was hard to tell exactly what it was that greeted Ramirez not only in that initial on-deck appearance but in all five of his at-bats. From the press box, which sits on top of the entire structure, it sounded like pure boos. From the visiting dugout, apparently, it sounded like something else.
"I thought there were more 'thank-you' cheers than the other," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, whose 14-year stint as manager of the New York Yankees encompassed all but the final four months of Ramirez's 7½ seasons as the Red Sox's primary left fielder. "I was satisfied with that because I know what he did to me for all those years."
It isn't entirely clear what it sounded like to Ramirez himself. He didn't have much to say on the matter after the game. Although the same media horde that wasted its time waiting to talk to him before the game was right there at his locker again afterward, Ramirez's next in-season interview of 2010 will still be his first.
"He's not going to talk," said one Dodgers player, understandably annoyed by the large media presence in a clubhouse that is uncomfortably cramped to begin with. "Why the [expletive] are they all standing there?"
It could be that Ramirez didn't hear much of anything. He does seem at times to have an amazing ability to block everything out. He has even been accused over the years of occasionally blocking out what is going on in the game. But because the Dodgers (38-29) were playing in an American League park, the aging and defense-challenged Ramirez had the luxury of playing the designated-hitter role, minimizing his exposure to all the hype surrounding his return, and Torre tentatively plans to DH him again Saturday and Sunday.
"He seemed fine, very determined," Torre said. "I thought he had good at-bats, and he hit some balls hard."
Ramirez, by the way, went 1-for-5 at the plate, flying to center in the second and right in the third before singling up the middle to lead off the sixth and start what proved to be a meaningless, two-run rally for the Dodgers at a time when they trailed 10-3.
There was no mistaking the sentiment of the sellout crowd in Ramirez's final two at-bats, though. The old place almost shook with joy as Ramirez took a called third strike to end the seventh and then another, with two runners on, to end the game.
While the storylines centered on Ramirez, the only thing that really mattered was the game. After all, they don't keep standings for who gets the most boos.
This was a game that provided more evidence to support the blossoming theory the Dodgers are mostly incapable of playing well in American League ballparks, where they are now 14-38 over the past seven seasons. But they will have five more chances between now and next Thursday to shoot that theory down, so more on that later.
Right or wrong, this night and to some extent this entire three-game series are all about Ramirez.
Torre hinted after the game -- in that certain way he has of hinting at something he plans to do without admitting he has already made up his mind to do it -- that rookie Carlos Monasterios has run out of chances in the starting rotation.
The right-hander made his sixth start and faltered once again, this time getting torched for six runs and eight hits over four-plus innings and failing to retire any of the four batters he faced in what became a seven-run fifth for the Red Sox.
"We need to pitch," Torre said. "That is what turned things around for us, when we started pitching well. We didn't pitch well tonight."
Monasterios is now 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA as a starter. He hasn't come close to throwing 100 pitches in any of his six starts, and, with one exception, hasn't come close to completing six innings. The Dodgers' rotation is now 2-5 with a 7.60 ERA over the past seven games, and Monasterios certainly doesn't bear all the blame for that himself. But he is the easiest to move out of the rotation because he has proved he can pitch well out of the bullpen.
Monasterios said through an interpreter that he was "absolutely not" concerned about his spot in the rotation, but it appears he might already have lost it. Veteran right-hander Vicente Padilla is expected to come off the disabled list and start for the first time since late April on Saturday against the Red Sox. Hiroki Kuroda pitches Sunday night, and the Dodgers are off on Monday, meaning they don't need a fifth starter again until June 26 against the New York Yankees.
Still, the Dodgers really have no one at Triple-A Albuquerque who has given any indication that he is ready to step into a major league rotation -- unless you count former big leaguer Seth Etherton, who was pitching really well until he got blown up for six runs in five innings on Friday night at Iowa, and he isn't even on the 40-man roster.
Longtime major leaguer Claudio Vargas, who was signed to a minor league contract earlier this week, is in the process of building up his innings and his pitch count, but he has a long way to go -- he went three innings Thursday night against Omaha. Even when he is ready to go, well, he is still going to be Claudio Vargas.
By the numbers
274 -- home runs for David Ortiz in his eight seasons with the Red Sox after he slammed a two-run shot to straightaway center field off Monasterios with one out in the first inning. That ties Ortiz for fifth place on the Red Sox's all-time list with -- who else? -- Ramirez.
Padilla (1-1, 6.65) returns to the mound for the first time since going on the disabled list April 24 because of a nerve problem at the top of his right elbow. He is 2-3 with a 4.84 ERA in seven career appearances, including six starts, against the Red Sox. He will be opposed by Tim Wakefield (2-5, 5.42), the ageless knuckleballer who hasn't faced the Dodgers since their last visit to Fenway in 2004, when they torched him for eight runs over 4 1/3 innings in their only victory of that three-game series.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.