Helmet in hand, Manny Ramirez trotted off the field. The fans at Dodger Stadium stood and applauded him. Ramirez's teammates waited for him in the dugout to exchange a series of choreographed hand gestures.
For a moment, the magic of Mannywood returned. A very brief moment.
Still, Ramirez's eighth-inning double on Tuesday night left a lasting mark, as it resulted in the only run in a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that rewarded the Dodgers with sole custody of first place in the National League West for the first time this season.
"I don't know how he hit that ball," Russell Martin said. "It seemed like he got jammed a little bit."
The Dodgers were in last place as recently as May 8. Since then, they are 22-7. Of their last 10 games, they have won eight.
Personally, Ramirez is on no such streak.
He is hitting .278. He has 26 runs batted in. And until Tuesday, he hadn't driven in a run in June. His influence on recent games was largely limited to a series of cartoonish mistakes in the outfield.
Hitting coach Don Mattingly blamed the aging icon's decline in production on the two months he missed, starting on April 23, because of a strained calf muscle. Mattingly's theory is that Ramirez lost his timing in that stretch and that the number of games he has to sit to properly rest his 38-year-old legs has prevented him from regaining it.
There was more frustration Tuesday night, as Andre Ethier's offensive breakout only served to remind the once-adoring fans that Ramirez was in decline.
When Ethier led off the fourth inning with a double, Ramirez followed up with a groundout to short. The Dodgers didn't score.
When Ethier doubled again in the sixth inning, this time with one out, Ramirez lined out to third. Again, the Dodgers didn't score.
Ethier, who entered the game batting .188 since his return from the disabled list eight days earlier, was three for four.
Of Ramirez, Manager Joe Torre said, "He looked like he tried to pull [the ball]. He might have been a little anxious earlier. He swung at some pitches that weren't strikes."
Ramirez was granted another opportunity in the eighth inning.
By this time, Chris Carpenter was out of the game. Rafael Furcal stood on second base and Ethier on first.
Ramirez lined a low 1-0 fastball the opposite way, barely past the outstretched glove of Ryan Ludwick into the right-field corner. Furcal scored. Ethier moved to third.
"He stayed inside on that last one," Torre said.
Reed Johnson pinch-ran for Ramirez. The fans rose to their feet.
Ramirez maintained his media blackout, as he was among the first players to exit the clubhouse.
Torre was particularly pleased with how Tuesday night unfolded, but for reasons beyond Ramirez.
"That was classic," he said. "That was postseason baseball right there."
The Dodgers were kept in the game by Hiroki Kuroda, who dueled Cardinals starter Carpenter evenly over seven scoreless innings. Kuroda, who was 0-3 with a 6.19 earned-run average in his last three starts, said his command the best it has been this season.
Hong-Chih Kuo (2-1) pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Jonathan Broxton earned his 15th save by overpowering the heart of the Cardinals' lineup, including Albert Pujols, whom he struck out.
Buy Dodgers tickets here
Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.