A motivated Hanley looks devastating

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
10:46
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- From 2006-09, Hanley Ramirez won a Rookie of the Year award, a batting title and finished second in MVP voting, all the while batting .316 and averaging 26 home runs and 41 stolen bases a season.

He was an unstoppable force, and his team just kept losing and losing.

Ramirez's career with the Miami Marlins was essentially an exercise in numerical accumulation. It made him rich, but it didn't get his team anywhere. The Marlins had five losing seasons in his seven years there and finished as high as second only once.

[+] EnlargeHanley Ramirez
AP Photo/Reed SaxonPerhaps it's the taste of being on a winning team and in a pennant race that has Hanley Ramirez motivated and playing some of the best ball of his career.
Ramirez got a taste for winning in March, when his Dominican Republic team won the World Baseball Classic. You could see the joy in Ramirez's face as he celebrated on the field with his teammates and countrymen, even though he had just torn a ligament in his right thumb.

"You get that trophy in your hands, you want to just keep adding more," Ramirez said. "That's a great feeling."

Imagine how much sweeter it will feel if Ramirez gets his hands -- presumably healthy -- on a different trophy this fall. If there's one player who can carry the Los Angeles Dodgers there, it might be Ramirez. What was shaping up as the Summer of Puig has become the Heyday of Hanley.

He has been the best hitter in baseball since he got off the disabled list in early June. His 1.138 OPS leads all major leaguers with at least 150 at-bats.

"He's one of the more talented players I've ever seen," said Clayton Kershaw, who ought to know.

The talent has never been the issue. Motivation and effort were, but those haven't appeared to be in short supply for Ramirez since he arrived in Los Angeles. Who knows, maybe it just took a little hint of hope and the promise of winning. All those losing seasons can beat you down, one would presume.

It also doesn't hurt that his left shoulder is finally sound, two years removed from invasive surgery.

"Ever since I got here from the trade, everything changed in my life," Ramirez said. "I think differently. I've got teammates supporting me and I've got a lot on my side. That's huge."

Friday might have been the closest thing Ramirez has ever experienced to playoff baseball: a sold-out crowd at Dodger Stadium, Kershaw and Homer Bailey hooked up in a pitcher's duel, the backdrop a meeting of two of the hottest teams in baseball.

Ramirez looked ready for the limelight. He caught a hanging curveball from Bailey and lined it over the left-field wall -- all the scoring Kershaw would need to give the Dodgers a 2-1 win at Dodger Stadium.

For a while, Puig was the cover boy, but Ramirez was the engine. That has become clear, as Puig has gone into a tailspin and the Dodgers have kept winning. In his last 14 games, Puig has two extra-base hits, three RBIs and 22 strikeouts.

Earlier in Friday's game, Ramirez made the most entertaining play of the game, eluding catcher Corky Miller's tag at home plate, but then trying to dive back over him to reach the plate and being called out (after being called safe) by umpire Alfonso Marquez.

All Ramirez could think about was avoiding injury. He had hurt his right shoulder on a similar play in the Dominican Republic in November.

"I didn't want any part of that," Ramirez said.

Ramirez was referring to that one play. He very much wanted a part of the rest of it.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.296 16 69 92
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
WC. Kershaw 21
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239