But Dodgers starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda didn't make it halfway through Wednesday night's 5-4 loss to the Mets -- more proof that, with Manny or without him, as manager Joe Torre often says, it comes down to pitching.
"He just didn't look like he was crisp at all," Torre said of Kuroda. "He was really laboring. Warming up in the bullpen, he was fighting it."
Kuroda didn't have a consistent breaking ball, fell behind in counts so he couldn't use his split-finger fastball to fool hitters and the result was his shortest start of the year. He was charged with five runs (four earned) in 4 1/3 innings.
"I have to start fresh and really have to do more work and have a better outing the next time I pitch," said Kuroda (3-5). "I have a lot to work on."
So, it seems, does the Dodgers' offense. Mets left-hander Oliver Perez came off the disabled list to make this start, walked seven in five innings and still got the win. The Dodgers went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners, seven in scoring position.
"I just felt like we let him off the hook a little," said third baseman Casey Blake, who walked four times. "It was just a game where we needed a big hit and sometimes you don't come up with them. [Perez] was good when he had to be. We were a base hit away. And I had a costly error there. If we turn a double play, maybe it comes out in our favor."
Blake's error on Ryan Church's one-out bouncer was part of a three-run third inning for the Mets that followed a four-pitch walk to Gary Sheffield.
The Dodgers' offensive game plan was to wage a war of attrition, run up Perez's pitch count for an early exit and win a battle of the bullpens. They scored twice against Perez, on Mark Loretta's two-out RBI single in the first inning and Rafael Furcal's RBI single in the fourth.
But when Kuroda left, the Dodgers trailed, 5-2, and their single runs in the eighth and ninth weren't enough. The eighth-inning run was scored by Matt Kemp, finalist in the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote, who tripled and came home on Furcal's RBI groundout. Kemp had three hits.
The only ninth-inning run was Ramirez's. A night after being ejected for tossing equipment after a called strikeout, Ramirez led off the inning against Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez with a home run into the first row of seats in right field.
Ramirez saluted in the direction of Furcal in the Dodgers' third-base dugout as he rounded third base on his trot, playing an entire game for the first time since returning last week from his 50-game suspension for violating the Major League Baseball drug policy.
Home run No. 535 gave Ramirez sole possession of 16th place on the all-time list, breaking a tie with Jimmie Foxx. Next up is Mickey Mantle with 536.
Ramirez said he would see how his legs feel Thursday before knowing whether he would play or for how long. He got a workout in left field starting in the first inning, when he froze long enough for Daniel Murphy's liner to sail over his head for a double, although Murphy didn't score.
"He hit it pretty good," Ramirez said. "I'm not a Gold Glove guy out there."
Earlier in the game, he chatted briefly with third-base umpire John Hirschbeck, who gave Manny the rest of the night off in the fifth inning on Tuesday.
"Everybody makes mistakes and I think I overreacted," Ramirez said of his arguing an earlier third strike, then flinging a no-look toss of his arm guard behind him in the direction of the umpire and earning the ejection.
"We're friends," said Ramirez. "He told me he missed. I said, forget about that. He made a mistake."
The Dodgers left runners in scoring position in six different innings. Orlando Hudson and Andre Ethier each went 0-for-5, Hudson stranding four runners, Ethier stranding eight.
Ethier, with runners on first and second, ended the game with a sharp ground ball near the second-base bag that might have driven in the tying run, except Mets shortstop Alex Cora was standing there trying to cut down Blake's lead off second and turned the grounder into a double play. A moment earlier, a Rodriguez pickoff attempt of Blake sailed into center field, but Cora fell on Blake, who wasn't aware of the loose ball.
"It's a hard team to beat," said Cora. "They've got an American League lineup over there."
The highlight play of the game was Loretta's seventh-inning bouncer that hit the first-base bag, was picked up bare-handed by Murphy, who flipped behind his back to pitcher Bobby Parnell covering. Umpire Marty Foster called Loretta out on a close play and Loretta briefly argued.
"Worst luck I've ever had on a baseball field," said Loretta. "That happens and usually it's a big help. If it doesn't hit the bag it's a double; instead it's an out. What are the odds of that?"
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less