Say what you want about Manny Ramirez, but don't ever say he doesn't find new ways to catch your attention.
Ramirez's pregame encounter with the New York media Tuesday produced nothing noteworthy, as he repeated his go-to phrases such as "I want to talk about the game," and "That's in the past." The reception that Ramirez received from the fans at Citi Field was so tame that Dodgers backup catcher Brad Ausmus remarked, "I was expecting a lot more boisterous boos."
But in the fifth inning of the Dodgers' 8-0 victory over the New York Mets, Ramirez struck out looking on a strike that wasn't a strike, leading to another Manny-Being-Manny moment.
He threw his bat. He tossed his helmet. Then he flipped his elbow pad high over his head and in the direction of plate umpire John Hirschbeck, who immediately ejected him from the game.
The fans cheered.
Later, Ramirez said, "I was playing only five innings, so I was leaving anyway."
Relayed what Ramirez had said, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre replied, laughing, "He told me that too. I wasn't aware of that before that."
Lost in Mannywood or Mannymania or whatever this traveling circus is called was that 21-year-old left-hander Clayton Kershaw won his third consecutive decision by holding the Mets to three hits over six shutout innings.
Kershaw (6-5) struck out seven, walked two and lowered his earned-run average to 3.27. He has given up only two runs in the 29 2/3 innings spanning his last five starts.
Kershaw drew praise from Torre for pitching to contact, something the kid with electrifying stuff hasn't always done this season. The young pitcher, in turn, praised the offense for handing him a 3-0 lead in the second inning and extending it to 5-0 in the fourth.
"It helps so much to have runs early," he said. "It relaxes you to know that one pitch is not going to be a game-changer."
That, of course, takes us back to Ramirez, who thought he had drawn a full-count walk from Mets starter Mike Pelfrey in the first inning, only to be told by Hirschbeck to go back to the dugout.
Ramirez argued and gestured, but later admitted, "That was a strike."
He had another chance in the second, returning to the batter's box after Orlando Hudson drew a bases-loaded walk to push the Dodgers ahead, 1-0.
Ramirez hit a broken-bat single into shallow left-center to score two runs and increase the margin to 3-0.
He singled again in the Dodgers' two-run fourth inning, this time driving in Hudson. The Dodgers were up, 5-0.
Hudson was two for five with a walk, ending an 0-for-22 slump.
Blake DeWitt crushed a pinch-hit solo home run in the seventh inning that hit the Subway Restaurant advertisement at the front of the second deck of seats beyond the right-field wall.
But the moment of glory nearly turned into a moment of humiliation for DeWitt, who slipped and nearly fell just as he arrived at home plate.
"I was about to wipe out completely," he said of the moment when he stepped on a home plate that he described as slick. "I caught myself at the last moment."
By then, Ramirez was long gone, banished to the clubhouse for his exaggerated protest. Ramirez had shown similar frustration when called out on strikes in the Dodgers' previous series in San Diego.
"I don't think it's a growing sense of frustration," Torre said. "I think it's him getting back into the competitive mode. I think he's uneasy."
Torre had a similar explanation when talking about why Ramirez was so muted about his 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy.
Of the way Ramirez talked at the news conference he held in San Diego on Friday, Torre said, "He was trying be sort of flippant and be like, 'Everything's fine, everything's fine.' I know damn well he hurt because he hid out from us too."
Perhaps the indifference with which he was met Tuesday will help him. If anything, the signs in the ballpark seemed louder than the fans holding them.
Two young fans from New Jersey in the left-field stands passed out 400 copies of an 8-x-10 sign of Ramirez's No. 99 framed by asterisks. Another fan down the left-field line held up a sign that read "Welcome Back From Maternity Leave," a reference to the female fertility drug prescribed to Ramirez that caused his suspension.
Times staff writer Ben Bolch contributed to this report.