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T.J. SIMERS

Squandering everything, just to end up the same as in '08

October 22, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

FROM PHILADELPHIA — City officials spent the day greasing the light poles, street lights and nearby trees knowing Vicente Padilla was pitching for the Dodgers and the drunken uglies here would go stupid once the Phillies clinched the pennant.

The whole Dodgers season on the line, the team almost investing $100,000 in Padilla and it's all riding on his arm -- a shocker now they won't be in the World Series.

A year ago the Phillies won the National League Championship Series in Los Angeles, somehow beating starter Chad Billingsley in Game 5 along with relievers Chan Ho Park, Greg Maddux, James McDonald, Joe Beimel and Hong-Chih Kuo.

As you can see, the Dodgers are always loaded with pitching, or cheap bargains who claim they can throw.

The Dodgers had the best start, the best record for a long time, and finished with the top mark in the National League -- squandering it all, the home-field advantage and all that success, to finish exactly as they did a year ago.

A World Series invite up for grabs, the Dodgers hit .232, have a team earned-run average of 7.39 and former Dodgers outfielder Jayson Werth proves he was worth more than the Dodgers thought. Thanks for the nightmares.

But then as they say in baseball, "just wait until next year," Joe Torre a lame duck, the McCourts taking more of an interest in divorce attorneys than free agents, Manny Ramirez asking every day which American League team will be needing a DH, and the future of the Dodgers up to baseball visionary Ned Colletti.

Here's how horrible the Dodgers became almost overnight, former eighth-inning specialist, Lonesome George Sherrill, getting the call in the fourth to play the role of Jeff Weaver.

Sherrill came in with the bases loaded of Phillies and hit Shane Victorino, as good an imitation of Weaver as anyone could do. For the third straight time against the Phillies, the pressure was too much for Lonesome George.

Once the Dodgers choked away Game 4 with two out in the ninth, it felt as if this series was over, news to Ramirez, of course, because when he hit the showers the team was winning.

Last year ended up being all about Ramirez, just like much of this season for different reasons, one more year to go.

The latest Ramirez fiasco, while much ado about nothing except for those insisting he be a cheerleader, demonstrates what a polarizing figure Ramirez has become now that he can't be depended on to hit like his resume suggests.

It's so easy to condemn him for taking a shower after leaving Game 4, most sports fans unable to imagine anyone not watching such an exciting game -- let alone one of the competitors.

But it's just like the wife, who couldn't understand why Jeffrey Dahmer ate people, having to be reminded she could never think like Dahmer.

I know what you're thinking -- if anyone were going to compare Ramirez to a serial killer it'd be Plaschke, who by the way regularly kills him, but the truth is most folks think nothing like Ramirez.

When Ramirez said "it's not the end of the world" when Boston went down 3-1 to Cleveland a few years back, and "there's always next year," he was condemned.

But he was just explaining how he handles the everyday pressure that comes with playing this game.

He strikes out, and there's always the next at-bat. His team loses, and there's always tomorrow.

When he went to the showers, as he did all season when removed early -- win or lose Game 4, he knew there would be a Game 5.

"I had other players do the same thing [when managing the Phillies]," Dodgers coach Larry Bowa said, and no one in baseball is more old school than Bowa. "They'd leave the game, shower and sit in their locker. Had he left the park, that would have been different, but there were other guys in our clubhouse who did the same thing."

The drunken uglies here began chanting "Take a shower" in the eighth inning, but Torre took time before the game to tell everyone, "It's not like he was sitting in the stands with a beer."

Ramirez "is a different cat," as Bowa put it, and also an easy mark for baseball writers' outrage when he flippantly treats a sport they consider some kind of religious experience.

When baseball writers slam him, they are writing how they think someone should behave, rather than taking into account how he thinks, how he consistently deals with everything.

You break the mold in baseball, and given the chance, they will break you.

It's why he will always wear out his welcome, eventually doing something that offends the baseball purists, and then not hitting the big home run to offset the criticism.

As a certified cheater, Ramirez is certainly not standing on solid ground, but like so many others who have shown poor judgment before him, success can do wonders for one's image. Just ask Kobe.

Ramirez had that chance in Game 5, the Dodgers down by three, two men on and he hit the ball maybe 10 feet in front of home plate. Do you really think it was a good idea to take away his prescription for a fertility drug?

Now it's on to next season, and no question Ramirez has major adjustments to make. Does he struggle again at the plate? Does he confine his playful ways to the other Latin players, thereby negating his contribution as team motivator before being suspended?

He remains the team's focal point -- just listen to the drunken uglies here, but others are certainly gaining on him and more has to be expected from Kemp, Martin, Loney and Furcal.

But it's still all about Ramirez. Does he become a disgruntled distraction, or does he give L.A. one more joy ride in the hopes of landing one more contract elsewhere at season's end?

The Dodgers get only one more chance with Torre & Ramirez, and then Colletti will begin rebuilding. I mention this now, because on a night like this, as bad as things might seem, it really can get worse.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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