Up until he sent a hanging curveball 392 feet and over the left-field wall on Saturday, Hanley Ramirez had never hit a walk-off home run.
He had four other walk-off hits and 189 other home runs in his career. On 25 other occasions, his home run had started the game but it had never ended it. Not until the Dodgers’ 5-2 win over the Cubs in 12 innings.
“Really? First career walk-off homer?” said Manager Don Mattingly. He said he was surprised. “I guess you would just think somewhere along the line he would run into one of those.”
After the blast, Ramirez trotted far up the first-base line before finally discarding his bat. His teammates had already jumped the railings of the dugout and streamed onto the field. After he crossed home plate, Matt Kemp ripped off Ramirez’s uniform and threw it at him in what has become the team’s customary walk-off celebration.
In the clubhouse, though, Ramirez looked less like the game’s hero and more like a man who had just finished a long, wearisome day at work. And in fairness, he had. The game went four hours, 39 minutes. A rare rain shower fell on the field for much of the later innings — the first time Los Angeles experienced an Aug. 2 rainfall since the National Weather Service started keeping track.
Afterward, Ramirez dressed deliberately. He spoke to the media for less than two minutes and kept his voice low and mostly expressionless. He managed a chuckle once — when someone mentioned this being his first walk-off home run.
Before the at-bat, he said he had told himself to cut down on his swing. There were already runners on first and second. He prodded himself to come through for his teammates.
“I was watching the way they were pitching to JT,” Ramirez said, referring to Justin Turner, who had worked a walk in the previous at bat. “And they didn’t look they wanted to pitch to him. They want me.”
Before the final at-bat, Ramirez was 2 for 4 on the day with a walk and a double. He is hitting .276 on the year. With first base open, Cubs right-hander Blake Parker was probably being careful with Turner. If the Cubs did in fact prefer pitching to Ramirez, it was a poor choice.
Parker hung a curveball. On second base, Dee Gordon knew the ball was gone upon contact.
Ramirez took his time. He had trotted out a home run before. But never like this.