Manny Ramirez's L.A. era ends quietly
There were thrills during his time as a Dodger, but he faded fast after his suspension
DENVER -- Two years and one month after he arrived in Los Angeles amid a level of fanfare rarely seen even in Tinseltown, Manny Ramirez's stint with the Dodgers ended about as quietly as it possibly could have Sunday, with the aging slugger taking one pitch in a pinch-hitting appearance and quickly being ejected from the game.
The pitch, from Colorado Rockies rookie Matt Reynolds, appeared to be a few inches off the outside corner, but plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called it a strike. Ramirez, in a move far more common for a hitter who has just taken a questionable strike-three call rather than a questionable strike-one call, immediately jumped out of the box, turned toward Cederstrom and spoke his mind.
Cederstrom listened for about five seconds, then ejected Ramirez from what turned out to be his final game in a Dodgers uniform, a 10-5 loss to the Rockies before 38,343 at Coors Field.
Once ejected, Ramirez left the field quickly, turning back toward Cederstrom to mutter a couple of things as he headed toward the dugout and the clubhouse beyond, but that was pretty much it. It turned out to be his final act in a Dodgers uniform, with news breaking about an hour after the game that the Dodgers plan to let Ramirez go to the Chicago White Sox -- probably on a straight waiver claim but still possibly through a trade -- on Monday.
The contrast was striking from Aug. 1, 2008, when Ramirez first arrived and was greeted with a Dodger Stadium media gathering so large that reporters were pushed into a semicircle several feet back from the lectern at which Ramirez spoke, to Sunday, when Ramirez was out of the starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game and appeared on the field during the game for all of about two minutes.
It also was something of a microcosm for Ramirez's time with the Dodgers.
Ramirez's initial impact on the Dodgers was considerable. For the rest of that 2008 season, he hit .396 with a ridiculous .489 on-base percentage. For a club that had struggled offensively most of that year, he hit 17 home runs in 53 games, with 53 RBIs. He also played a key role not only in the Dodgers' winning a division title, but also in their winning a postseason series for the first time in two decades, a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs, before they eventually succumbed in five games to the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series.
That, of course, created enormous public pressure for the Dodgers to re-sign Ramirez the following winter. And while there didn't seem to be a large market for his services -- by the time an agreement finally was reached weeks into spring training, the Dodgers appeared to be the only team interested -- that public pressure was strong enough that Ramirez could command a two-year, $45 million deal that was so heavily deferred that the Dodgers will be paying it off for three more years.
Initially, though, that contract appeared to be a solid investment. Through May 6, 2009, Ramirez was his old self, hitting .348 with a .492 OBP, along with six homers and 20 RBIs. But the following day, it all began to fall apart -- on May 7, Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for violating baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program -- and except for the occasional flash of greatness, it never really came together again.
Ramirez would put up decent numbers last year -- .290 with 19 homers and 63 RBIs -- but except for his .418 OBP, they were subpar by his own standards. His most memorable moment came on his bobblehead night, July 22 against the Cincinnati Reds, when he was out of the starting lineup but pinch hit in the sixth inning and hit a game-winning grand slam off Nick Masset.
Still, the Dodgers won another division title and wound up back in the NLCS, where they again lost to the Phillies. And throughout last winter, there was hope that with the suspension and the embarrassment stemming from it now behind him, he could revert to his classic form in 2010 even with his 38th birthday looming in May.
IT'S L.A., AND IT'S LIVE
For more coverage of the Dodgers and the complete Los Angeles sports scene, visit ESPNLosAngeles.com. »
But on the day he arrived in spring training, Ramirez created something of a stir by publicly acknowledging something everybody already assumed, that he was entering his final season with the Dodgers. A few days after that, for reasons that never quite became clear, he stopped talking to the media entirely, and never really started again.
Once the season began, Ramirez's body began breaking down. He did three separate stints on the disabled list, all with injuries to his right leg. He missed a total of 62 games in those three stints, the Dodgers going 27-34 in those games, and that was a major reason why the team now faces long and possibly insurmountable odds in its quest to get back to the playoffs.
Ramirez was out of the starting lineup for each of the past four games, manager Joe Torre coming up with legitimate-sounding reasons for each one. But it now appears he was sitting only because the Dodgers didn't want to subject his increasingly fragile body to the risk of injury before he went to the White Sox.
Although it might be too late for the Dodgers (67-64) in 2010 -- they are fourth in the NL West, 10 games behind the division-leading San Diego Padres, and fifth in the wild card, 6½ behind the first-place Phillies -- they will have to learn to win without Ramirez in their lineup, whether it's now, next season or some distant season down the road.
Playoffs or otherwise, the best time for them to prove to themselves they can do it is now. Even for teams that stay home in October, won-lost records mean something, at least from a pride standpoint.
For better or worse, Ramirez, along with his aging body and quirky personality, is someone else's problem now. From here on, the Dodgers can spend whatever is left of their season addressing whatever issues are left behind.
Ted Lilly, the veteran left-hander acquired from the Chicago Cubs at the July 31 trading deadline, fell short in his bid to become the first Dodgers pitcher to win each of his first six starts since Kazuhisa Ishii did it in 2002.
Although he somehow managed to strike out eight batters, Lilly was otherwise torched, giving up seven earned runs and nine hits and lasting only four innings.
"Location," Lilly said when asked what his main problem was. "I fell behind a few times. It was one of those days when you just can't seem to throw the ball that well, but it would have been nice to find a way to give up two, three, four runs, five runs, just not seven. You just never know what can happen."
More on the Dodgers
For more news, notes and analysis of the Dodgers, check out ESPNLA's Dodgers Report. Blog
You especially never know what can happen at Coors, where despite his 12 seasons in the majors -- four of which have been in the NL -- Lilly (8-9) had made only two previous starts, going 1-1 with a 7.04 ERA. That inflated figure was mostly the result of an interleague game on May 21, 2006, when Lilly was with Toronto, in which he gave up five runs in 1 2/3 innings.
Although teams have been known to juggle their rotations at times to prevent certain pitchers from pitching at the notoriously hitter-friendly Coors -- the Dodgers used to do it with Derek Lowe -- Lilly says that wasn't the case with him. Apparently, his spot in the rotation just didn't come up much, or he was on the DL, or something.
"I certainly haven't dodged it," he said. "I don't know how you can look at it that way. I just didn't pitch well. I don't think it was so much the ballpark. I have seen guys have a really good curveball here before, and there is no reason I shouldn't be able to.
"I would like to pitch here again soon."
Lilly might get that chance when the Dodgers return for another three-game series Sept. 27-29. But he might want to be careful what he wishes for. His ERA at Coors now stands at 10.03.
The Dodgers begin what might be a last-ditch effort to save their season, a three-game series with the wild-card-leading Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night at Dodger Stadium. For a team that is struggling offensively, it gets no easier, at least in the opener. The Dodgers will face Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay (16-9, 2.22), the seven-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner who is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three career starts against the Dodgers. Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (9-11, 3.56) will take the mound for the Dodgers.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.