07/23/09 2:02 AM ET
Manny's pinch-hit homer caps sweep
Dodgers slugger's 21st career slam puts away Reds
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Along the lines of Kirk Gibson or Steve Finley or the back-to-back-to-back-to-back jacks, Manny Ramirez outdid even himself Wednesday.
Ramirez came off the bench on his Bobblehead Night on Wednesday and, with the crowd already in a frenzy merely from his appearance, slugged a pinch-hit grand slam into the Mannywood section of Dodger Stadium box seats to power the Dodgers to a 6-2 win over the Reds and a sweep of their series. It was the first pinch-hit homer of Ramirez's career.
"It was great, one of the best moments of my career," said Ramirez. "I'm just happy it happened here. It was kind of crazy, but I loved it."
Ramirez was not in the lineup because of a bruised left hand suffered the previous night. He took no batting practice before the game, no swings off a tee into the netting the way Gibson did before his legendary World Series blast while on his last legs. Ramirez took a few practice swings in front of a mirror before the game and a couple more in the on-deck circle after manager Joe Torre sent him to bat for winning pitcher Chad Billingsley with one out in the sixth inning of a 2-2 tie.
Ramirez greeted reliever Nick Masset's first pitch, a 96-mph fastball, with a screaming liner into the box seats next to the Dodgers bullpen. It was his 21st career slam, second all-time to Lou Gehrig's 23. When the playful Ramirez returned to the dugout, he celebrated by bobbling his head.
"He's a magic man," said Russell Martin. "That's as loud as I've ever heard a crowd."
"Just freakish," said Randy Wolf. "If you saw this in the movies, you'd think, no, that's stupid. That stuff doesn't happen. I'm not like a little kid in the dugout, but after he hit that, I felt like a little kid."
"I've never seen anything like that before and Juan Pierre, who's been around longer than me, said he's never seen it in his life," said Matt Kemp. "We're all pretty amazed. And on Bobblehead Night, too? That was tight. I ran around the bases laughing. I don't understand it. He hit a 96-mph pitch. Not 90 or 91. The dude throws hard. That's crazy. No batting practice? Not off a tee? Nothing, and he can do that? I'm in awe."
Ramirez was in the original lineup, but Torre said that was a staff miscommunication. Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo, a teammate of Ramirez's in Boston, wasn't surprised by any of it.
"I don't think anybody was worried about his hand," said Arroyo." I know Manny. He'll take a day off if he gets hit like that even if his hand is perfect. Don't ever think when he goes to the plate that Manny Ramirez is hurt, because he's not. If he was, he wouldn't be standing in the box."
The fifth straight win moved the Dodgers 27 games above .500 for the first time since Gibson's 1988 team. They've now beaten the Reds in 20 of their last 23 games and the last 12 at home.
The planets all aligned for the at-bat, as Billingsley had been batting in the eighth spot in the order because when Pierre replaces Ramirez, Torre likes to bat Pierre ninth so the pitcher doesn't follow him. The sixth inning started with Willy Taveras robbing Casey Blake of extra bases at the center-field fence, then Arroyo walked James Loney and Kemp and Martin singled sharply to load the bases. Reds manager Dusty Baker brought on Masset and up came Ramirez, who told Torre before the game he could bat.
"A lot of money on that bench," Ramirez joked before the game, but the sellout crowd that came for the bobbleheads knew who was coming before Ramirez was ever announced and the decibel level hit postseason intensity.
"It was the perfect situation, since you knew they couldn't walk him," said Torre. "Just the way he was sort of stalking around the dugout, I had a good feeling he would be able to do it; whether he'd get a hit or not was a different story. He certainly got up there, had a plan and executed it."
Billingsley allowed one run in the first inning and another in the sixth on a wild pitch, notching his 10th victory in his seventh try, having last won on June 14.
The Dodgers also scored on Andre Ethier's 20th home run and an RBI triple by James Loney. Ethier is the first Dodgers outfielder with back-to-back 20-homer seasons since Shawn Green in 2001-02.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.