The rehabilitation of Hanley Ramirez‘s public image, a long, gradual, methodical process that began around the time the Miami Marlins traded him to the Dodgers last summer, may have been officially completed tonight. Any last remnants of the perception of this guy as a petulant, selfish superstar-in-waiting finally disappeared, displaced forever by the profile of a true gamer, a gritty warrior who pushed himself onto the field for a National League Championship Series game his team simply couldn’t afford to lose, a guy whose long list of on-going ailments now includes a hairline fracture to one of his ribs. He even added a couple of hits to boot.
This is the new Hanley. The one without whom the Dodgers probably couldn’t have gotten very far in this postseason.
There is a plethora of reasons why the Dodgers won tonight, cutting the St. Louis Cardinals’ lead in this best-of-seven series to 2-1. There were the seven shutout innings by Hyun-jin Ryu, the big hits by Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez and the suddenly awakened Yasiel Puig, the dominating late-inning performances of relievers Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen.
But the inspirational star of this game was Ramirez, and it wasn’t so much because of that insurance run he drove in during the bottom of the eighth inning. That was just a well-placed pop-up that happened to find grass at a time when the right, fleet-footed teammate happened to be running off second base.
No, this was more about the symbolic nature of Ramirez’s mere presence at shortstop when the Dodgers starters jogged out to their respective positions to begin the game. Ramirez already had a sore throwing shoulder, an irritated nerve in his lower back and pain in his hamstring resulting from the back thing. And since he stepped into the batter’s box for the first time in this, his first career NLCS, when he was plunked in the left side by the Cardinals’ Joe Kelly, Ramirez has had a broken rib, something he didn’t find out about until earlier today when he underwent a CT scan.
By all accounts, since acquiring Ramirez on July 25, 2012, the Dodgers have experienced none of the behavior for which Ramirez, rightly or wrongly, gained a reputation during his Marlins days. Since arriving here, there is nothing to suggest he ever has been anything other than a good teammate and a dedicated soldier, a guy who has been willing to play through pain and do whatever has been asked of him. But reputations can be a hard thing to shake, especially when your standard workday includes being followed around by media members who like to shade their stories with background and perspective, and so the questions still are routinely asked of manager Don Mattingly and the front office about what Ramirez has been like to have around.
Those questions might come a little less often now.
Ramirez went 2-for-4 at the plate, but neither one of those hits was hit particularly hard — they both were just kind of bloopers over the head of whichever Cardinals second baseman was in the game at the time, Matt Carpenter on the first one, Kolten Wong on the later one — nor was the routine fly ball he hit to right field in the fourth. He did turn on an inside pitch in the sixth and hit a smash down the third-base line, but the Cardinals’ Daniel Descalso, who was in the game only because David Freese had left with calf tightness, lunged to his right to pick it off and, with his momentum carrying him into foul territory, fired across his body to nab Ramirez, robbing him of what might have been a double.
Ramirez also flawlessly handled the only ground ball hit to him all night, as well as taking a throw from first baseman Adrian Gonzalez at second and throwing it right back on a doubleplay attempt that Descalso barely beat out in the seventh inning.
Ultimately, though, none of that is what anyone will remember about what Ramirez delivered for the Dodgers tonight. For a guy who was in so much pain 48 hours ago that he could barely move, just the fact Ramirez managed to be in the starting lineup and get through eight innings before being doubleswitched out of the game in the ninth, that was how Ramirez left his mark on a game that could prove to be a turning point in a series that suddenly is a long way from being decided.
Ramirez wasn’t alone in his heroics. Andre Ethier, who was in the starting lineup for the first time in a month for Game 1 then missed Game 2 when he experienced increased soreness in his left leg after playing all 13 innings (minus one batter) of the opener, was back. He played the entire game, without incident, and figures to be in there again for Game 4, as does Ramirez.
Whether the Dodgers win or lose this series, Ramirez’s gallantry tonight will fade from the memories of the national media and the general public, lost in the numerous memorable moments still to come in this postseason. But the Dodgers, they won’t soon forget it. Because suddenly, and perhaps against all expectations, they had their most important offensive player back on the field tonight, warts and all.
And just as suddenly, we now have a truly compelling NLCS on our hands.