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Sunday, July 21, 2013
Hanley Ramirez delivers again

By Christina Kahrl


Hanley delivers, Dodgers win? I know it’s only something we’ve been hearing about for the last six weeks or so, but give credit where it’s due: The dude has made that every bit as much an everyday event as Yasiel Puig made feats of strength just so much sports wallpaper during the kid’s magical first month.

Now I know, I know: As Mike Petriello rightly noted, they can’t keep this up. Baseball is not like basketball; you don’t win with Twin Towers and a grab bag of on-field witnesses. Except that Ramirez did just that, again, as the Dodgers beat the Nationals, an equally desperate expected contender, again.

But that's the thing: Hanley Ramirez has been here before, while Puig just got here. We connect them because they've both been hot, but where Puig still has plenty to prove, Hanley Ramirez is a legitimate MVP-caliber ballplayer. The arguments for why Ramirez can’t stay at an MVP level of production might be couched in relative terms; he’s produced at an MVP level for multiple seasons at a stretch. If he does so again for four months in the limelight of L.A. and a pennant race, as much as those things aren’t supposed to matter to those who reduce all ballgames to equal value, it will be the defining moment in one player’s career in a way that no feat of Marlindom ever could be.

On Saturday night, it was up to Zack Greinke and Ramirez to make their star turns, Greinke to keep the game in reach on a night that Gio Gonzalez brought his A-game, and HanRam to provide the winning margin in the 10th. To satisfy the skeptics, Puig settled for adding a trio of K's to the proceedings, but for those who want to give team-wide props to those who earned them, six relievers combined for four innings’ worth of scoreless cameos to cue HanRam’s decisive double in the 10th. That gave rookie Chris Withrow a win that, if not earned equally by everyone, was nevertheless earned collectively as the Dodgers picked up another game on the Diamondbacks.

Like so many Angelenos, Greinke has walked the well-worn path from small-stage hero to big-market hired gun, the man whose 2009 season as a Royal might still be the single best season on the mound in the new millennium. And just as he did a week ago with a complete-game shutout, he kept his infield busy this Saturday night. Say what you will about whether or not former right-field regular Andre Ethier can really handle playing center field in the major leagues, but when somebody’s pitching like this it generally doesn’t matter who’s planted in the middle pasture -- Ethier, Jimmy Hoffa, or a palm tree.

But the star gone dark lately for fans seeking instant gratification is Puig, 0-for-9 since the break with five whiffs, which is meaningless in any serious baseball context but is nevertheless sure to simultaneously set off alarms among doubting statheads and scare-mongering radio jabberati. Certainly, Puig may never replicate his magic month. Maybe he is “just” the new Vladimir Guerrero with speed; spare the Dodgers your crocodile tears if that is so.

In part, the Dodgers’ star turns reflect the basic unfairness of geography and cash distribution and expectations. While the Dodgers may play in Chavez Ravine, face it, they’re totally Hollywood. Where the silver screen might give us Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve or Thirteen, the expectation is that if the Dodgers want their own big-budget happy ending the diamond, at some point they’ll have to give us the Dodgers Twenty-Five.

And just as any ensemble cast blockbuster provides a vehicle for single scenes where one guy or another might show you why they’re a star, that’s what the Dodgers do for baseball fans, night after night. Withrow gets a win, but Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke made it possible more than anyone else. Not all 25 boys in blue are performing or will; that’s just flashing a command of the obvious, like noticing that there’s a big difference between Brad Pitt or George Clooney and Scott Caan or Eddie Jemison. But it’s only oh-so-Hollywood that the Dodgers have their share of men missing at this moment who might step in to be the hero in a scene TBNL, either starting now (Carl Crawford), next month (Matt Kemp?) or next year (Josh Beckett, anyone?).

We’ll see where the Dodgers’ roller-coaster season ends, but make no mistake, these Dodgers are in the race, and Hanley Ramirez is going to be a big part of the reason why, in September as much as he was in June. And while it would be too soon to talk sequel in Hollywood -- where they want you to show them the money first -- in the sports world every team gets a sequel, every year. The Dodgers have definitely shown us the money; now, let’s see if their stars shine all the way down the stretch.


Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.