Sometimes it isn’t just about statistics.

Dan Haren, the ace of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitching staff, was conducting a clinic Tuesday night at Chase Field when Manny Ramirez approached the plate in the top of the fourth inning.

All nine outs recorded by Haren prior to facing Ramirez were strikeouts, and Haren was keen on continuing to uphold his brilliance.

However, Manny Ramirez jumped on the very first pitch delivered by Haren, and promptly delivered a sizzling grounder to Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds, who effortlessly threw Ramirez out at first.

Victory to Dan Haren? Absolutely not.

In the half-second it took for the ball to leave Haren’s hand and reach Ramirez’ bat, Manny was calculating, almost plotting a way to break Haren’s groove.

Not only did Manny send a message to Haren demonstrating that he wasn’t going to strike out 27 batters that evening, but Ramirez also proved to his own teammates that Haren wasn’t exactly unbreakable. This may sound far-fetched to most people, but these are the types of games Manny plays within the game.

Since the opening series of the season in Pittsburgh, Ramirez was fighting a strain in his right calf; then on April 22 against the Cincinnati Reds, he aggravated the same muscle to the point where he had to be pulled in the sixth inning, and was subsequently placed on the DL April 23.

During the time Ramirez spent on the disabled list, it seemed as if the entire baseball community in Los Angeles was in an uproar; the Dodgers just couldn’t do anything right. When the pitching was working, the bats fell silent; and vice-versa. The entire bullpen was in shambles. Managers, coaches, players, and fans wanted, and needed, answers quickly. 

Fans were demanding trades and wanting new acquisitions. General Manager Ned Colletti was singling out unacceptable performances of specific players, not only to justify the Dodgers’ poor record, but also in hoping to create some type of positive spark on the field.

When Ramirez was finally reactivated on May 8, the Dodgers owned a 12-16 record and were in last place in the NL West, very substandard marks for the storied franchise.

Now, it seems as if a certain calmness has settled over Dodgerland. The bats have been popping, and the pitching has been exceptional, especially among the starters. After taking two out of three against the Rockies, and now sweeping Arizona on the road, everything seems to be fine. Everything’s working; and the fans are at ease.

Much of the credit has to be given to the presence of Manny Ramirez.

And that’s not to take away brilliant play from Andre Ethier, James Loney, Clayton Kershaw, John Ely, Jonathan Broxton, and many others. Put simply, when in the lineup, Manny creates a positive atmosphere and relaxing approach all around him.

Granted, there are Manny-haters everywhere, and some of these folks suggest that Ramirez needed a break after the long spring and wanted a very early vacation. Others say that he has lost his passion for the game, and is well past his prime. But there’s still a lot of life left in Manny.

It seems obvious that Ramirez wants to continue to play after this season, the final year of his contract in Los Angeles. And it’s almost certain that Manny won’t be sporting Dodger Blue next season, as he appears destined to be a designated-hitter in the AL, so he needs to showcase strong numbers this year to attract lucrative offers from other teams moving into 2011. That alone is enough proof he will put forth his best efforts daily.

But it’s not just about statistics.

Dodgers center-fielder Matt Kemp seemed in a daze for the two weeks during which Manny was on the DL, taking to the field every day in a very pensive manner and barely cracking a smile. And thanks to Manny and the Dodgers most recent success, Kemp seems back to his normal loose, yet energetic self. This is what Manny does; he has a propensity to change the mood in the locker room and on the field.

By taking a relaxed, less-tense approach on the diamond, the Dodgers seem to fire on all cylinders. Seeing the squad this way is a far cry better than watching every Dodger hitter approach the batter’s box worried, stressed, and exasperated, wanting to win the game with one swing of the bat, or fearing for their life if they don’t produce.

Furthermore, Ramirez still excites the Dodger crowd to an incredible degree, probably moreso than any other Dodger. An energetic and enthusiastic crowd always brings out the best in any team.

And there’s no doubting Manny can still swing the bat very well.

Wednesday night against the Diamondbacks with two outs, runners on second and third in the Dodger seventh, Arizona opted to intentionally walk Andre Ethier and in doing so, decided to take their chances facing Ramirez with the bases loaded.

Not only could this scenario have changed the way other teams pitch to the Dodger hitters for the remainder of the season, but for most of his playing career, this was unheard of to Manny.

Ramirez sent a message, and promptly blasted a rocket off the center field wall, delivering a three-run double and breaking the game wide open for Los Angeles, as they went on to win 6-3. In doing so, it was the Dodgers’ first ever sweep in Arizona.

If other teams around the league decide to pitch around Ethier to get to Manny, the Dodgers’ run production will elevate in a hurry. This is exactly how the lineup is designed to work; yet another form of productivity that Manny brings to the table.

Yet it’s still only May, and the Dodgers will indeed have their share of ups and downs, ins and outs, high points and low points.

But one thing is for certain, as long as Manny Ramirez remains in the lineup, and everyone else stays healthy, the Dodgers will be in contention for another NL West title.


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