Wednesday June 10th, 2009

One month and two days after he was suspended for taking performance-enhancing drugs, Manny Ramirez walked into Dodger Stadium on Tuesday in jeans and a knit sweater, met with manager Joe Torre, hugged a couple of teammates, sat down in front of his locker, and decided it was finally time to break his silence.

"I'm ready to move on," Ramirez told a small group of reporters. "I didn't kill nobody. I didn't rape nobody. That's it. I'm going to play the game."

The scene was vintage Ramirez -- no press conference, no podium, no script, no plan. He just decided, smack in the middle of his 50-game suspension, to talk for the first time since the news broke. Ramirez's presence was so startling that when shortstop Rafael Furcal saw him in the clubhouse, Furcal screamed "What!" and crossed himself. Ramirez spoke for six minutes, without revealing much.

On whether he's sorry: "That's what I said."

On whether his legacy is tainted: "Everybody is going to have their opinion. I just want to go and play."

On whether this is the hardest thing he has ever gone through: "I guess so. I've never really had to sit around at home for 50 games. It's tough because you love the game. When something like this happens, it's shocking, but it makes you better, makes you stronger."

In one breath, Ramirez made his absence sound painful, and in the next made it sound a little like a prolonged vacation. "(It's) not tough," he said. "I'm enjoying myself. Me and my uncle, we just watch the games on TV. Sometimes after the game, I call the guys, like (first baseman James) Loney and say hi. Or if I see something he's doing wrong, I call him and say you're doing this, you're doing that."

Ramirez is working out at Dodger Stadium when the team is away and said he started running the bases Tuesday. He is eligible to return July 3, but he acknowledged that he will likely need a rehabilitation assignment to regain his swing. He cannot, however, prepare himself for the reaction he will receive from fans around the major leagues. "I know I let them down," Ramirez said. "When I come back I'll make it up and we'll move on ... It's going to be fun. It's going to be crazy." Oddly enough, the Dodgers don't seem to have missed Ramirez much. They entered last night's game against San Diego with a record of 39-20, best in the major leagues.

Their new left fielder, Juan Pierre, was hitting .360. "When I come back," Ramirez said, "maybe Wally Pipp." Even though Pierre is doing his best Lou Gehrig impersonation, Torre insisted that Ramirez will indeed start in left field when he returns in mid-July. "Manny is not very comfortable coming in jeans and not playing," Torre said. "It's foreign to him to not be in the lineup ... The more time he spends around here, it becomes less of a novelty."

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