08/06/08 2:37 AM ET
Four-run ninth for naught; LA loses in 11
Dodgers rally off Cardinals' bullpen only to fall on walk-off
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Jones' pinch-hit homer triggered a ninth-inning Dodgers comeback Tuesday night, and he credited Ramirez for taking pressure off everyone on the team. Ramirez went 2-for-3 with two walks and is 10-for-16 (.625) with a 1.062 slugging percentage and .667 on-base percentage in four games since the trade.
But one thing Ramirez can't do is pitch, and the Dodgers' depleted bullpen gave it up in the bottom of the 11th inning, with Ryan Ludwick slugging a two-run homer off Jason Johnson for a 6-4 Cardinals win.
That's the same Johnson who started the Dodgers' previous game on Sunday, when he made 87 pitches and was removed in the fifth inning.
"This is the big leagues and that's what you do," Johnson said of the unexpected workload.
He was the seventh pitcher used Tuesday by manager Joe Torre, who wouldn't send starter Chad Billingsley back out for the sixth inning after a second rain delay. Billingsley was coming off a complete-game shutout.
The 65 minutes of rain delays, the extra innings, ineffective outings by usually reliable relievers and the repeated use of Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo on the recent homestand left Torre strapped for arms. Torre said he planned to use Broxton only with a lead and Kuo not at all Tuesday night. Neither entered this game, which was played in 93-degree heat and lightning ringing the new Busch Stadium.
Heading into the ninth inning, Broxton and Kuo's availability didn't seem like an issue. The Dodgers trailed, 4-0, after the Cardinals scored a run off Billingsley immediately after the first rain delay, a second run off Brian Falkenborg and two runs on an Albert Pujols homer off Chan Ho Park.
Torre sent Jones up to pinch-hit leading off the ninth inning against Ron Villone, and he crushed a 421-foot home run over the Dodgers bullpen, his third in 200 at-bats.
It ignited the best Dodgers' ninth-inning comeback in two years: one-out singles by Andre Ethier and Russell Martin, a walk to Ramirez to load the bases, a gift infield single by James Loney for a second run, Jeff Kent's line single for a third run and Casey Blake's sacrifice fly to tie.
After the slump of a lifetime and a knee surgery, Jones had already been relegated to reduced playing time even before Ramirez arrived, but last week's trade sent Jones to the bench, where he's been a pinch-hitter and a defensive replacement.
Reduced playing time hasn't been welcomed by other outfielders impacted by the deal, like Juan Pierre and Ethier, but Ramirez's arrival seems to have eased the pressure Jones has been feeling.
"Manny makes a difference just being on the team," said Jones. "His impact, not that other guys don't make an impact, but Manny is just a different impact. There's less pressure on one specific person, the pressure is spread to the team, it's not just forced on one guy."
Everybody knows where the pressure's been before Ramirez was acquired.
"They bring me in to get the job done and help the team be where we want to be at the end of the year, and it didn't work out the way I wanted, the way it should go," Jones said. "I've talked to other guys in this situation. You don't realize you have much pressure put on yourself, you miss a lot of time and try to make up the time you miss and do too much and try to get seven RBIs in one at-bat and one game and one series. A lot of things go through your mind. It's tough getting a routine. You just get stuck for a while."
Jones' routine for most of the year was striking out. His at-bats were zombie-like, repeating the same mechanical mistakes month after month, despite endless sessions watching video and swinging in the cage.
"It's all about stepping stones," said Torre. "He has a little ways to go. We have to wait and see, but it looked like he went up there with an idea of what he wanted to do. He didn't overcommit like he's been doing so much."
Torre agreed that Ramirez's presence can only help Jones.
"Maybe the situation, at this point, gives him a chance to get his breath," Torre said of Jones. "Manny's presence is pretty imposing. They basically walked him intentionally that inning."
That was the ninth, with a semi-intentional walk with first base unoccupied. In the 10th, the walk was officially intentional, the Cardinals refusing to let Ramirez beat them. Earlier in the game, Ramirez singled twice, both followed by Loney double-play grounders.
In the ninth, Loney hit an infield single that reliever Jason Isringhausen dropped for a run; Loney lined out to left to end the 10th with the bases loaded. The key at-bat that inning was Martin's one-out strikeout.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.