Hanley relishes first shot at postseason
ATLANTA -- Hanley Ramirez has been around the game for long enough to understand, fully, how special it is to play in a postseason.
It's not that other players don't appreciate it. But when you've been playing in the big leagues for nearly a decade and you've never even once sniffed the playoffs, well, there may be a little more pep in your step when it's time for those first pregame introductions that are saved only for Opening Day, the All-Star Game and opening postseason games such as the Dodgers' 6-1 victory over the Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday.
"It's on another level," he said. "The energy from the first pitch, every pitch counts. Every pitch, It's an unbelievable feeling."
Ramirez is only 29, but he's already in his ninth season in the big leagues. He debuted, briefly, for the Red Sox in 2005 before beginning a six-year run with the Marlins, during which his team reached the postseason exactly zero times.
He was traded to the Dodgers in the middle of the 2012 season and now is part of a team that has, judging by payroll, pitching and personnel, an overwhelmingly good chance to still be playing three weeks from now. Ramirez, mostly healthy and hitting third in a dangerous Dodgers lineup, appreciates the opportunity he has to be part of something extraordinary.
"There's a lot of energy," he said. "But at the same time, you have to control your emotions and get it done and do your job."
Injuries limited Ramirez to just 86 games during the regular season. When he did play, however, he was a lightning rod. He had 105 hits in just 304 at-bats and knocked 20 home runs, which for a lot of players is a full season's worth.
Among players with 300 or more at-bats, Ramirez led the Majors with a .638 slugging percentage and ranked second with a .348 batting average. He was seventh with a .402 on-base percentage.
Earlier in the year, however, he was just one of many on an injury-ravaged Dodgers roster. Today, he marvels at what the club has overcome and still has to work through, seeing that it is still not at full force and won't be through the postseason.
"It's unbelievable, what we went through the beginning of the year," Ramirez said. "I got hurt, [Matt] Kemp got hurt, but we had a couple of guys step it up for us. [Nick] Punto, [Scott] Van Slyke. ... We've just got to go with whatever we have and don't think about that."
Whatever they "have" appears to be plenty. The Dodgers logged 11 hits and jumped out to an early lead in Game 1, giving the Braves few opportunities to climb into a contest L.A. won handily. Ramirez recorded one hit -- a double off Jordan Walden in the sixth that drove in a run -- and admitted he pushed through slight discomfort on one groundout that may have tugged at his hamstring.
"Everybody knows that I'm not 100 percent, but at the same time you try not to think about that," he said. "In the middle of a game you're just trying to do your job and help the team win at the end of the night."
The postseason is without question a time when nagging injuries, muted pain and annoying discomfort are all pushed aside as non-issues. What may force a player to the disabled list in June, even for precautionary reasons, is usually not enough to keep a player down in October. Compete for a World Series ring first; save the healing for the offseason. That's what winters are for.
Ramirez should know. How long did it take to get to his first postseason? Exactly 1,095 regular-season games. That's a lot of not-so-meaningful games played in September.
He's watched ex-teammates and friends play in the postseason, but asked very few questions about their experiences. He figured he'd wait and just hope to live it himself someday.
"The less thinking, the better for me," he said. "I don't like to think too much. Pitch by pitch, out by out, inning by inning. ... Keep everything slow."
He'll soon discover October baseball, however, is anything but.