About a month ago, a fellow ex-con and I were talking about Manny. And I went on and on about how once he heats up, worlds will collide and women will swoon and men will put down their copies of Details magazine to realize there’s something far more important out there.

My associate scoffed at this and said not only did he think Manny’s bat would be a “non-entity” this season, he didn’t even envision Manny belting his 500th home run in 2007.

So, naturally, I kicked the guy in the genitals and ran off, confident that in the end, Manny would prevail, big games would be won, and Remy would be pitching his official “Stairway to 500” commemorative Manny T-shirts.

But here we are, more or less at the halfway point of the season, and Manny has 11 home runs, 481 career, which means he’s essentially gonna have to double his home run production in the second half to reach this milestone this year.

Impossible? Not for Professor Ramirez. But, man, it’s far from guaranteed based on what we’ve seen so far.

In 27 innings against one of the worst teams in baseball, our offense has conjured only 6 runs — and a measly one run yesterday off the mighty Kameron Loe, who lowered his ERA from 6.02 to 5.72. The biggest concerns are Manny and his Partner in Ass-Stomping, David Ortiz, who are still struggling to find the magic, to get into the kind of groove that allows us to sit back and chuckle and calmly say, “Aw, shucks, Hinske’s grounded into another double play, that rascal,” because we know the Big Boys are gonna deliver. At last year’s All-Star break, the Tizzle had 31 home runs, on his way to a club record 54. A week away from this year’s break, he’s got 13. (And an interesting article in today’s ProJo offers the disturbing fact that Ortiz has only three Fenway homers so far in 2007. Three?)

Yes, my heart tells me that these two are gonna break out of it soon and kick it, Luke Cage style. But my mind tells me I’ve been saying this since the middle of May.

Of course, such details are easy to overlook when, despite an absolutely pathetic showing in June, the lads still have a double-digit lead in the East. It’s becoming apparent with each passing day that the Yankees aren’t going to be storming the gates of the castle any time soon. The Blue Jays? They’ve got an impressive line-up on paper, but Vernon Wells has been bitten by the same bug that got Paps and Manny, and Frank Thomas, at least for the first half of the season, has been something of a bust, a shadow of the guy who was the comeback story of 2006. Also, Toronto’s been a rather fragile lot thus far, with pretty much every starter doing time on the DL — something that doesn’t bode well for the September stretch.

But while these teams chase their own asses, we could be making hay. Building up that division lead. Getting ourselves to that comfortable place where we can rest key pitchers and starters before the playoffs. Capitalizing on the fact that our fifth starter can hold the opposition to one run over five and 2/3 innings.

It all comes down to this question, my friends: will the Red Sox who show up for the rest of the season be the guys we’ve watched last month, or the guys we saw during April and May?

My money’s on the latter. And Our Man Jools is equally optimistic:

“If you see Manny, Big Papi, they all got big smiles. They know we’re good. We are good. Because for some reason we’re in first place.”

A good way to start would be winning behind Stiffler tonight and — my god, how much does it hurt to say this — splitting the series with the Rangers.