Manny hits big homer, falls short at end for LA
Although Manny Ramirez came through in yet another big playoff moment for the Los Angeles Dodgers, this year's Manny couldn't do it twice. Ramirez homered in the fifth inning of the NL championship series opener Thursday night against Philadelphia, hitting a dramatic two-run shot that suggested the slugger's postseason magic had returned near the close of an up-and-down season. Instead, Manny grounded out meekly in the seventh inning with Andre Ethier in scoring position. Ramirez then stranded two runners in the eighth with an inning-ending grounder that killed Los Angeles' best late rally in an 8-6 loss. Baseball's career postseason homers leader added his 29th, but it also was his first homer in 16 games since Sept. 18 - just one symptom of a late-season slump that included a .229 average in September. The 37-year-old Ramirez is quicker out of the locker room than down the first-base line these days, and he flew out of Dodger Stadium afterward. Los Angeles needed more from him and the other big boppers in the middle of its lineup to avoid losing home-field advantage in the series. "We need to get those big hits in playoff games, all of us," said cleanup hitter Matt Kemp, who had two singles but didn't drive in a run. "With Philly's lineup the way it is, you've got to keep piling on runs and keep going. If we can start to do that, we're going to be in good shape." Piling on has been one of Manny's playoff specialties during a career that includes the most league championship series hits (55) and homers (13) in history. He's one RBI behind Bernie Williams (33) for the LCS lead in that category as well. His fifth-inning homer, which Ramirez admired for a few jaunty moments at home plate, shook Dodger Stadium with electric anticipation while cutting Philadelphia's lead to 5-4. Los Angeles' fans radiated that familiar feeling from last fall, when Hollywood's newest star drove the Dodgers into the NL championship series with a series of big hits and RBIs. Ramirez was spectacular throughout last season's playoffs, batting .520 with four homers, 10 RBIs and 11 walks while hitting safely in all eight games. When he came up against former Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park in the seventh, the old stadium rocked again - but Ramirez chopped a grounder to third base with nobody out, leaving Ethier stuck at second. Park then retired Kemp and Casey Blake, and the Phillies scored three runs in the eighth to gain some cushion. Ramirez then came up in what could have been the game's biggest moment, with two runners on and two outs and Los Angeles down two in the eighth. Reliever Ryan Madson went after him with high fastballs topping 94 mph at least twice, but Ramirez eventually chopped a harmless grounder to third. "They beat us to the punch, and we couldn't quite land that big punch of our own," said Ethier, who came home on Ramirez's homer, but also got each of his three hits in front of outs by Ramirez. "We couldn't finish them off and get ahead in this game. They kept finding ways to add runs on. We just have to show up the same way we played today. You have to take your chances with the way we played tonight." Ramirez struck out and popped to second base in his first two at-bats against Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels before uncorking his homer. With a strong pitching performance, the heart of the Los Angeles order's six hits and three RBIs might have been enough. But Ramirez, Ethier and Kemp couldn't make up the ground lost during Philadelphia's five-run fifth inning against Clayton Kershaw and three-run eighth off reliever George Sherrill. Ramirez's season began ominously with his 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy. Ramirez then endured several dry spells during which manager Joe Torre suggested the slugger was trying too hard - something that's rarely been perceived as a problem for a player whose body language in Boston sometimes suggested to fans he wasn't trying at all. His only run-scoring hit in Los Angeles' division series sweep of St. Louis was a two-run double in the first inning of the Game 3 clincher.