Not sure how well you can see it in this photo, but there is a big puddle in the middle of this carpet, a carpet that likely will have to be replaced now in the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field because when water and beer and champagne and blood and sweat and tears are mixed with carpet, it can lead to mold. But the Dodgers don’t have to worry about that, because they won’t be back in this clubhouse until sometime in 2014.
Before it all accumulated here, it was being poured over the heads of about 50 players, coaches, front-office types and support personnel, at least some of whom were only here because Matt Kemp ponied up to bring them here because the organization wouldn’t. Among that large group of celebrants was about a million stories leading up to this moment.
There was the long-ago minor league catcher who had little hope of ever reaching the majors and even less interest in converting to pitching, but a few years after finally giving in and making that transition, Kenley Jansen found himself on the mound, recording the final three outs of this National League West division clincher, a 7-6, come-from-behind victory over the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks.
There was the other long-ago minor league catcher who was drafted as a college senior, down in one of those rounds where college seniors always seem to be drafted, who scrapped and clawed his way from a good-glove, no-hit, Crash Davis-type to an everyday major league starter, and today, it was A.J. Ellis who hit the tiebreaking home run off Diamondbacks reliever Josh Collmenter to put the Dodgers in front to stay.
There was the kid who as recently as two years ago was still stuck on that tiny, poverty-stricken island in the Caribbean, knowing the only way off it was to take the sort of risk most of us could never comprehend. At the end of a rocky rookie season in which he has made his share of mistakes and become one of the game’s more polarizing figures, there is no denying that the Dodgers probably wouldn’t be here celebrating if not for the impact of Yasiel Puig.
But the best story, in my humble opinion, was a tall, skinny shortstop from the Dominican Republic.
As it stands right now, Hanley Ramirez is in fourth place on the dubious but somewhat-accidental list of active major leaguers who have played the most career games without appearing in the postseason. Playing in South Florida will do that to a guy. Following today’s game, Ramirez had played in 1,090 big league games, leaving him behind only a trio of veterans, Marlon Byrd (1,240), Reed Johnson (1,183) and Austin Kearns (1,125). Depending on how much manager Don Mattingly decides to play him or rest him between now and the end of a regular season that now is all about getting things lined up for the playoffs — Ramirez has an irritated nerve in his back and continues to battle a chronically sore left hamstring — his futility streak will end at roughly 1,095 games when, presumably, he will start at shortstop in the Dodgers playoff opener on Oct. 3.
On a roster loaded with star-caliber players, Ramirez arguably is the Dodgers’ biggest name and most important player. When he has been healthy over the years, you could make a case for the notion he was the best all-around player in the N.L. But he played for the woebegone Florida-slash-Miami Marlins, whose glory days had long passed by the time Ramirez came up. He also had occasional maturity issues, perhaps similar to the ones Puig is going through now, and one feud with former Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez resulted in Gonzalez being shown the door.
Ironically, Gonzalez now manages the Atlanta Braves, and there is at least some chance Ramirez’s Dodgers and Gonzalez’s Braves will run into each other in the coming weeks. But that’s another story for another time.
What we are seeing now, though, is Ramirez as a finished product — and a guy who, when healthy, can carry a team, even a star-studded one.
He carried the Dodgers today, in large part. He slammed a three-run homer in the second inning, giving an early hint that this would be a special afternoon, and when that lead didn’t hold up and the Dodgers found themselves looking a three-run deficit, and after they chipped away to cut that deficit to one, it was Ramirez who came through again with a second home run, his 20th of the season, to complete the comeback and tie the game at 6-6.
Mattingly feels like he is taking a colossal chance every time he writes Ramirez’s name on his lineup card. Ramirez was playing for just the second time in the Dodgers’ past seven games, and right now, his body is a catastrophe waiting to happen. This guy could really use an offseason to let some things heal up. But the Dodgers are going to the playoffs, and they want to go deep into them, and they know they can’t really do that without Ramirez.
And this year, for the first time, Ramirez is going to the playoffs, too.
Ramirez grounded to shortstop to lead off the ninth inning, completing a 4-for-5 performance, and Mattingly didn’t like the way Ramirez ran down the first-base line. He had been told by the medical staff that if Ramirez showed even the slightest hint that he was feeling discomfort to get him out of there immediately. And so Nick Punto went to shortstop to start the bottom of the ninth, meaning Ramirez didn’t get to be on the field when left fielder Skip Schumaker settled under the fly ball to left by Aaron Hill and hauled it in to finally clinch this division title.
You get the sense that didn’t really bother Ramirez, though. Just being in this spot was something he had been waiting for seemingly forever. After the Dodgers gathered at second base in celebration, they made their way into the clubhouse, where all those adult beverages and all that revelry awaited. A few minutes after that, some of that revelry spilled back onto the field, where several Dodgers players ran to the infamous swimming pool beyond the right-centerfield wall and jumped into it — a move that didn’t sit well with at least one Diamondbacks player who apparently has nothing to do but seek out excuses for righteous indignation.
Ramirez’s big moment finally has arrived. He finally is headed for baseball’s big, October stage.
Then again, perhaps his biggest moment is still to come. Maybe even sometime in the next few weeks.