The day began with rampant rumors of a three-team deal that would free Manny Ramirez from Boston and net the Red Sox a replacement in the form of Pirates left fielder Jason Bay.

It ended the same way.

But in the hours between the early-morning rumors and last-second trade that sealed the day's biggest deal was a roller-coaster ride befitting the anticipation for this year's Trade Deadline.

How close was it?

"3:59 and seconds," Pirates GM Neal Huntington said, referring to the 4 p.m. ET deadline. "Just a tremendous team effort to get this done."

As the three-team buzzer-beater hit nothing but net and the Red Sox, Dodgers, Pirates and Ramirez walked away winners, the Marlins -- a surprising bidder for Ramirez in the first place -- were left dangling on the hook.

Ramirez, 36, landed in L.A., and Bay, 29, was shipped from Pittsburgh to Boston. For their part in the deal, the Pirates received third baseman Andy LaRoche, brother of Bucs first baseman Adam LaRoche, and Minor League pitcher Bryan Morris from the Dodgers, and right-hander Craig Hansen and outfielder Brandon Moss from the Red Sox. All but Morris, 21, are 24 years old.

Ramirez, in addition to being granted a trade out of Boston, will also get his freedom. His $20 million club options for each of the next two seasons were dropped, which will allow Ramirez to become a free agent this winter. Additionally, the Red Sox are paying the $7 million remaining on Ramirez's $20 million salary for this year.

But that's just the ending. The best part of the story is the middle chapters, real page-turners that kept fans plugged in throughout the day as the likelihood of a deal involving Manny rose and fell more times than a hotel elevator.

Manny Ramirez

It appeared initially in the late morning that a deal was all but final among the Red Sox, Marlins and Pirates. As the negotiations were being finalized, Ramirez signed off on the deal contingent on the Marlins declining his 2009 and 2010 options, which they agreed to do. Much like the finalized deal, Ramirez would have headed out of Boston and been replaced by Bay, with outfielder Jeremy Hermida and prospects headed to Pittsburgh.

How it all fell apart is not yet clear, but one rumor was that the Red Sox balked at the Marlins' insistence that they pay Ramirez's salary for the remainder of the year. And the Marlins and Pirates reportedly couldn't nail down the players who would go from Florida to Pittsburgh. The Pirates were said to have wanted pitching prospect Ryan Tucker and/or slugger Mike Stanton, an 18-year-old outfielder with 27 homers at Class A Greensboro. That price was too rich for the Marlins' taste.

"Why some of those things didn't come to fruition could be a number of factors," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said, without mentioning specifics. "It could be the money. The players. To somebody else had different goals than we did."

And just like that, as quickly as it had picked up steam, it fizzled, with reports around noon saying the deal was all but dead.

The Pirates moved on to the Rays, with whom they had earlier spoken about Bay. The upstart Rays, needing a right-handed bat to help them hold off the Red Sox and Yankees in the beastly AL East, seemed like the perfect partner, and talks heated up between the two teams. The Pirates were interested in infielder Reid Brignac and one of the Rays' promising young pitchers: Jeff Neimann, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson or Wade Davis.

Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, still looking to deal Ramirez, turned to the Dodgers who, lurking just behind the D-backs in the NL West, have been looking for a powerful bat for the middle of their lineup all season. The Red Sox reportedly asked for Matt Kemp in return; the Dodgers countered with Andre Ethier. As talks continued, it became clear that neither side was going to budge, and yet another option for the Sox appeared to have evaporated.

But in the late afternoon, as the L.A.-Boston deal was fading, the Rays reportedly told the Pirates they would deal one or the other of Neimann or Brignac for Bay, but not both, and that Price, Hellickson and Davis were off limits. That was not enough for Huntington, and the Pirates moved on.

"I'm not going to address speculation," said Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations. "I know there was a lot out there. The way we view that is that the Trade Deadline is an opportunity for us to examine ways to improve our club. We did that. We had a lot of discussions. A few of them led right up to the Deadline. But obviously, nothing came to fruition."

And so Epstein, still looking to trade Ramirez; Huntington, still wanting to cash in on Bay; and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, still searching for that power bat, found themselves with mutual interest but no time to spare. It already had been established that the Dodgers were interested in Ramirez and that the Red Sox were happy getting Bay to replace him. So all that was left was to see if those two clubs could adequately compensate the Pirates.

Despite appearances, however, it was not a deal that came out of nowhere, or even one that developed only on Thursday. The Pirates and Dodgers had spoken earlier this season about shortstop Jack Wilson after Rafael Furcal went down, so Huntington had some familiarity with the Dodgers prospects.

"It was actually kind of humorous to see how long a lot of things were kept quiet and how long it took things to take lives of their own once they got out in the media," Huntington said. "It is something that took place relatively quickly, but the groundwork had been laid a while ago. It took a lot of people and a lot of work from all the clubs. And yes, it did come together very quickly in the end."

The deal, the second big one this week for the Pirates' first-year GM, leaves the Pirates in good position as he rebuilds the once-proud franchise. LaRoche, Moss and Hansen will join Pittsburgh and Morris will go to Class A Hickory. The quartet joins the four players acquired from the Yankees on Saturday for right fielder Xavier Nady and left-handed reliever Damaso Marte -- right-handers Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen and Jeff Karstens and highly touted outfielder Jose Tabata -- as the Bucs look to 2009 and beyond.

The Dodgers, in the end, didn't have to part with either Kemp or Ethier and got the bat they needed for the middle of the order.

"We have one of the better hitters of his generation coming in," said general manager Ned Colletti. "He's a champion and a winner. We couldn't be happier."

Having filled their vacancy at third base by acquiring Casey Blake from the Indians on Saturday, their only issue now is what to do with five outfielders: Ramirez, Kemp and Ethier along with Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre. Sans DH, manager Joe Torre will have some juggling to do. But there are worse problems to have, such as juggling four outfielders when none of them are one of the game's most-dangerous sluggers.

"I don't know what my thinking is right now," said Torre. "Manny obviously will be in the middle of that lineup, and we're just going to have to, as we go along, try to figure it out. I'll probably get the whole team in there together before we break up for our normal meetings just to sort of give them some thoughts. I really don't know who's going to get impacted the most on this thing."

The Red Sox are free to march forward without the ongoing distraction of "Manny Being Manny" and with a suitable replacement in Bay, who is seven years younger, has posted comparable numbers to Ramirez this season and is signed through next season.

Ramirez, presumably, will find the peace in Los Angeles that he could not find in Boston, and if not, he can go in search of it as a free agent come November.

"The Red Sox don't deserve a player like me," Ramirez told ESPNdeportes.com on Wednesday. "During my years here, I've seen how [the Red Sox] have mistreated other great players when they didn't want them to try to turn the fans against them.

"The Red Sox did the same with guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, and now they do the same with me. Their goal is to paint me as the bad guy," Ramirez added. "I love Boston fans, but the Red Sox don't deserve me. I'm not talking about money. Mental peace has no price, and I don't have peace here."

Left on the outside looking in were the Marlins, who have surprised nearly everyone by staying in contention through July.

"The disappointment is these guys deserve to be helped as much as possible," Beinfest said, "and we would have liked to have done a little more. It's not like we're despondent and we feel terrible. In the front office, we wanted to help them as much as possible. We just would have liked to have helped them a little more."

At the end of this day, however, the story for Marlins fans is just another a tale about the big fish that got away.