Commentary

Manny must be Manny -- right now

Down 3-1 in the NLCS, L.A. needs Ramirez to be more like the Phillies' Ryan Howard

Originally Published: October 19, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- One of these days -- and it better happen soon, now that the Los Angeles Dodgers are one loss away from becoming National League Championship Series landfill -- it would be nice if Manny started being Manny.

Not the Manny Ramirez who has exactly one home run in 29 at-bats this postseason and only two RBIs in 16 at-bats against NLCS opponent Philadelphia Phillies. Not the Manny who might have been outsprinted to Shane Victorino's sixth-inning "triple" in the left-field corner by 81-year-old Vin Scully (followed moments later by Ramirez's halfhearted lob to third). Not the Manny who has been a factor, but not the factor for a Dodgers team at the very brink of elimination.

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesManny Ramirez's LCS numbers -- .250 BA, one home run, two RBIs -- aren't very Manny-like.
If the Dodgers, who were Novocain'd by the Phillies' two-out, game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth Monday night, have any hope of reaching their first first World Series since 1988, then Ramirez has to quit with the supporting role stuff. Otherwise, let's quit pretending he's the swizzle stick in L.A.'s baseball drink.

The Phillies took a 3-1 series lead thanks to the very thing that Ramirez used to provide: clutch hitting. Jimmy Rollins flushed a 1-1 Jonathan Broxton fastball into the far reaches of right-center-field at Citizens Bank Park. In the few seconds it took for Rollins' double to split the gap, the Dodgers blew a 4-3 lead and the chance to return here Wednesday with the series tied 2-2.

"This season isn't over," said Dodgers starter Randy Wolf, who used to pitch for the Phillies. "All we have to do is win three in a row."

Sure, no problem. Just forget about this 5-4 Phillies shocker. Then beat the defending world champions three consecutive times -- once at home and then twice more at L.A. By the way, that means you'd have to beat Cliff Lee if it reaches a Game 7.

Sorry, but the Dodgers' season is finished. They don't have enough quality starting pitching. And they don't have enough Manny. It's not all on him, but if Ramirez doesn't start delivering some RBIs, maybe it's time to get rid of Mannywood and consider renaming a section of Dodger Stadium as Ethierwood, in honor of L.A.'s best hitter this postseason, Andre Ethier.

OK, give Ramirez credit -- his grass-blade-high catch of Raul Ibanez's sinking line drive later in that sixth inning ended a Phillies rally, prevented the tying run to score and caused NLCS viewers everywhere to say, "Did Manny do that?"

Yes, he did. How, I don't know.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, watching from the dugout steps, was so sure that Ramirez couldn't possibly make the catch that he raised his arms in celebration as Ibanez's liner curled toward the ground and supposed safety. But then Ramirez's glove appeared and the ball disappeared. L.A. still had its one-run lead.

But the Dodgers didn't hire Ramirez for his glove, his dreads or his 50-game steroid suspensions. They hired him to hit, and so far Manny is being more James Loney than one of baseball's premier postseason run-producers.

Unfair? Not if you're owner (for now) Frank McCourt, who is paying Ramirez nearly $24 million this year and probably another $20 million next year when Manny exercises his option for 2010.

The Dodgers are barely in this series, but they can't and won't win it unless Ramirez's bat remembers how to hit a ball over a fence more than once in October. In L.A.'s last three games, they've averaged two runs.

Ramirez went 1-for-4 Monday evening. He grounded out to shortstop Rollins in the second inning. He singled in the fourth and scored. He reached on an error in the sixth and later scored on Casey Blake's RBI-single. And he struck out looking to start the eighth. Yawn. Meanwhile, Howard had another postseason hit and RBI. His two-run homer in the first inning was the eighth consecutive playoff game Howard had at least one RBI. The last guy who did that was Lou Gehrig. In 1932.

Howard has 14 RBIs this postseason. Ramirez has four. Look up the definition of slugger in your Webster's, and you'll no longer see a picture of Manny. You see Howard.

Ramirez's power deficiency didn't matter in Game 3, when the Phillies won by a touchdown, a field goal and a safety. But it mattered in Game 4, when he hit one ball out of the infield.

Maybe the boos and the "You … took … steroids" chant by Phillies fans have had an effect on Ramirez. Maybe, but unlikely. Ramirez doesn't have bat ears. He is carefree, oblivious or clueless -- take your pick. But whatever he is, a chant at Citizens Bank Park isn't going to freak him out. Or maybe age has caught up with his bat speed. Ramirez is 37. Teams still worry about him, but do they fear him? Big difference.

Manny Ramirez
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonIt's not usually part of the package, but Manny did make a run-saving shoestring catch on a sinking liner in the sixth inning.
The Phillies are playoff money when they hold a series lead after three games. If they take a 2-1 postseason series lead, they win. That's what baseball history says. They're 6-0 in those series.

And now they have a 3-1 lead against L.A.

"They feel pretty good right now," said Wolf, "and they should."

If the Dodgers want to be the ones to end that killer streak, then Manny has to be Manny. Singles Manny won't be enough. Look-what-I-caught Manny won't be enough. Manny needs to channel 2004, when his Boston Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees in the ALCS.

"We just got to fight and do everything we can to win three in a row," said Broxton, who, unlike Ramirez, spoke to reporters after the game.

Ramirez isn't the only reason why the Dodgers are in this NLCS sinkhole. But he's one of them. Now, more than ever, it's time for him to do what he's done in playoffs past.

Be Manny.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

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