Hours after Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for a performance-enhancing drug violation, the shaken Dodgers team he left behind blew a six-run lead and lost to the last-place Nationals, 11-9, as the bullpen allowed 10 runs. The defeat snapped the Dodgers' win streak at seven and their modern-day record of consecutive home wins to start a season at 13.
It was hard to make the claim that the Dodgers missed Ramirez's offense, what with nine runs on 14 hits that included a grand slam and five RBIs from Matt Kemp and two hits from Juan Pierre, who replaced Ramirez in left field.
But it's impossible to say that Ramirez's suspension -- and the media circus it drew to Dodger Stadium -- wasn't a distraction.
From chairman Frank McCourt's early-morning phone call to manager Joe Torre and general manager Ned Colletti with the bad news, Thursday was nothing but stunning for the Dodgers. Players arrived to learn of a team meeting with Torre and Colletti to discuss Ramirez's suspension and the need to focus on the goal of winning games.
"That's what we did today," Kemp said. "We played hard, we grinded for nine innings. We just didn't get the win. We can't win 81 games at home. I wish we could."
After the meeting, players made their way to the field for batting practice, only to find roughly 100 members of the media waiting for a conference Torre and Colletti held by the backstop screen while the players hit.
"Obviously, it's an emotional thing here," Torre said. "But I just had the sense we'd be ready to play. They came out the way they did [scoring six runs in the first inning] and the last two innings battled back [with three more runs]. They're in a good place right now. Obviously, we're not pleased with what transpired and we feel bad for Manny, but we know what we have to do."
One thing they need to do is get better pitching from the bullpen, which has been reliable so far this year but melted down to allow 10 runs in the three innings that followed starter Randy Wolf.
"For the first time this homestand, they just couldn't get it done," Torre said.
Wolf was staked to a six-run lead in the first inning, powered by Kemp's grand slam off Jordan Zimmermann. But it took the Dodgers five more innings to get a runner as far as second base. Wolf allowed one run in six innings, making 109 pitches, but now has five consecutive no-decisions.
"It was business as usual for me," Wolf said, dismissing the notion of a Ramirez distraction. "I don't think the hitters were distracted scoring six runs in the first and nine runs in the game. Obviously, it's on our minds. We are human. We did a good job and we put it behind us."
Josh Willingham ruined the shutout with a solo homer just inside the left-field foul pole on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the sixth. Then Washington torched the Dodgers' bullpen.
Three runs in the seventh were charged to Ramon Troncoso (snapping his string of 14 1/3 scoreless innings), two scoring when Adam Dunn doubled off Will Ohman. The Nationals tied the game in the eighth inning on Austin Kearns' two-run pinch-hit double off Cory Wade and took the lead later that inning on Nick Johnson's two-run double off rookie Brent Leach that landed on the left-field foul line. And James McDonald, pitching on consecutive days, allowed one run in the ninth.
The Dodgers scored a run off former teammate Joe Beimel with a two-out rally in the eighth, but also left the bases loaded, then added a pair of runs against Kip Wells in the ninth, but left the tying runs on the corners.
"I don't see or don't feel any impact at all," third baseman Casey Blake said when asked about Ramirez's absence. "Like we've said before, are we better with him? Yes, we are. We are still very, very good without him. What are we going to do? Hang it up? Shut her down the rest of the year? No. We're competitors, this is our job and we take it seriously. I've got faith in everyone in here. You have to overcome adversity in life and at work."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.