MLB: Dodgers’ Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez are opposites that attract attention
By Bill Dwyre
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — One is from Iowa, the other from the Moon.
Two of the stars of Tuesday's 9-5 Dodgers win in their home opener were Casey Blake, Mr. Middle America, and Manny Ramirez, Mr. Starship Galaxy.
Blake hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning and the notoriously slow-starter is now batting .389.
Ramirez hit a solo shot to get things started for the Los Angeles Dodgers, leading off the fourth, and is now batting .304. His homer was one of those that arrived before it left. It was hard to tell if he hit it with a bat or shot it from a cannon.
The Arizona Diamondbacks' Ian Kennedy seemed to be in a decent pitching groove when Ramirez walked to the plate, score tied, 1-1. But Manny, being Manny, softened him up. The fans in the left center field bleachers had just enough time to duck. A shaken Kennedy quickly gave up a double to James Loney and then grooved one to Blake, who hit it almost as far into left center, but nowhere near as hard.
"I didn't get a sign to move the runner over," Blake said afterward, meaning he had been relieved of the responsibility of trying to hit the ball to the right side of the infield, advancing Loney to third. "That meant they want me to drive one."
And so he did.
Andre Ethier later hit a three-run shot to seal the deal on a day of the usual opening-day ceremonial excess. There were fireworks, the United States flag covering nearly the entire outfield, the jet fly-over and celebrities singing and throwing out the first ball. The crowd was announced at 56,000, which means the Dodgers were rounding up or had lost their calculators. Once Tommy Lasorda was introduced midway through the game and stood and waved, resplendent in his yellow sweater in the box seats, it was official. Summer had come once again to Dodger Stadium.
And a fascinating summer it could be, especially if you take a look at Tuesday's game as a miniature of the next 155.
Blake came to the Dodgers in a trade with Cleveland on July 26, 2008. Ramirez came to the Dodgers in a trade with Boston on July 31, 2008. A big part of the framework for the future had been set in place.
Ramirez came with a reputation for being a great player and a flake. By the time he left Boston, he was about as popular as a Nor'easter. His departure brought near-unanimous reaction from Red Sox players and fans: Don't let the door hit you in the .
But he brought immediate leadership and electricity to the Dodger clubhouse. Today's stars — Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, Loney, Ethier — were younger then and in need of some of the stuff Ramirez was dishing out. He was fun, loose and, better yet, on a hitting spree. Leading by example is always best.
Blake brought leadership too, but that of a quiet veteran, now 36, who could calm by logic and a reassuring pat on the back. Manager Joe Torre pointed to the value of each several times that season, and even implied that, as flashy and effective as Ramirez's leadership was, the quiet daily presence of Blake may have been even more valuable.
Everything changed with the 50-game suspension of Ramirez at the start of the 2009 season for violating baseball's drug policy. He finished last season a shell of himself, both in the batter's box and the clubhouse. And before the start of this season, he said he wouldn't be back with the Dodgers next season and stopped talking to reporters.
He is in his last-season-in-Boston mode now. He has no need to invest in a team and a place that will mean nothing to him by late autumn. All he needs is to build yet another resume for one last contract with a new team, undoubtedly in the American League, where he can be, at age 38, a designated hitter.
Still, his skills as a hitter are unquestioned, and will be valuable all season in the same manner they were Tuesday. Slap-you-on-the-back Manny is needed much less on this team now than slap-one-over-the-fence Manny.
Afterward, Blake answered questions from the media, bantered with them and his teammates and represented the productive, trusted, dependable elder. Ramirez disappeared before the media got to his locker.
They are as similar as water and molasses, and that may just work this season for the Dodgers.
"I won't be something I'm not," Blake said, "and neither will Manny."
When the season ends, Blake will go home to Indianola, Iowa. Ramirez may go directly to his vacation house on Pluto.