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Dodgers' Hanley Ramirez gets another playoff shot at Cardinals

Dodgers' Hanley Ramirez gets another playoff shot at Cardinals
Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez steps into the batter's box during a game against the Cubs last month. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

The Dodgers' season ended last year when a fastball struck Hanley Ramirez and fractured his ribs in the opening game of the National League Championship Series.

That's what Ramirez believes. That's what the Dodgers believe.

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With the Dodgers set to open a National League division series Friday at Dodger Stadium, Ramirez said he is motivated by the memory.

"I want to finish what we were supposed to do," he said.

Their opponent in the best-of-five series will be the same team that eliminated them in that NLCS, the St. Louis Cardinals.

In Ramirez's mind, there's no doubt why the Cardinals advanced to the World Series last year and the Dodgers didn't.

"I've got my teammates telling me, 'We lost last year because you went down,'" he said.

Ramirez, who was by far the Dodgers' most dominant offensive player at the time, batted only .133 in the series. The Dodgers lost, four games to two.

Ramirez downplayed the significance of facing the Cardinals again, saying the games would be important regardless of the opponent.

"It could be any team," he said.

The pitcher who struck Ramirez, Joe Kelly, is now with the Boston Red Sox.

Manager Don Mattingly said he didn't think Ramirez's history with the Cardinals would be a factor in this series.

"If you're talking about the Hanley thing last year, we had all year, if we wanted revenge," Mattingly said. "We're trying to win games."

But the Cardinals plunked Ramirez twice more this season, both times in the same July game at Busch Stadium. The first pitch, by hard-throwing Carlos Martinez, prompted Clayton Kershaw to hit Matt Holliday in retaliation.

Ramirez missed the next four games with a bruised left wrist.

The injury was one of several Ramirez sustained this season.

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He's also had problems with both hands, his left leg, his right side, right shoulder and right elbow.

The result is that Ramirez isn't the same player he was last season, when he batted .345 in 86 regular-season games. Scouts from rival teams said he has looked more vulnerable to pitches inside.

"What can I say?" Ramirez said. "It's a long season. You're going to go up and down. You have to keep your head up."

Ramirez finished the season batting .283 with 13 home runs and 71 runs batted in in 128 games. He batted .417 in his last 19 games, but didn't hit any home runs.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was encouraged by Ramirez's late-season surge.

"He's a guy that can really carry us," Gonzalez said. "If he can get going, it's very important."

Ramirez said he never lost that belief, which he offered as the reason why he allowed himself to be placed on the 15-day disabled list only once.

"They can't win without me," Ramirez said. "That's my mentality every day. I have to be in the lineup. Even if they're telling me they want to give me a day, I say, 'No, I want to be in the lineup because I know my teammates need me.'"

Still, Ramirez said the Dodgers' second consecutive NL West title was a credit to such teammates as Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford, who helped the Dodgers overcome his fluctuations in form.

"It takes off a little bit of pressure," Ramirez said.

Ramirez ended the season as the No. 5 hitter, one spot behind Kemp, who hit 25 home runs.

"In that lineup, everybody can hit," Ramirez said. "You have so many great players."

The resurgence of Kemp and, in particular, Crawford, has made the Dodgers far less dependent on Ramirez than they were a year ago.

But Ramirez believes he will be great again.

He batted .500 last year in a division series against the Atlanta Braves, which the Dodgers won in four games. The playoff series was the first of Ramirez's career.

"I'm a playoff player," he said.

Even though Ramirez doesn't have a new contract with the Dodgers — the impending free agent and the team agreed to wait until the off-season to discuss a possible extension — he said he remains grateful for the 2012 trade that sent him from Miami to Los Angeles.

"I'm thankful for the chance to come to L.A. and be part of this team," he said. "I want to be in the playoffs every year. That's why you work. You want a ring."

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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