Dodgers fans booed Manny Ramirez on Sunday.
That's how bad it got at Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers looked flat in losing to the Cubs, 3-1, their National League West lead trimmed again to 3 1/2 games over the Rockies with a showdown series beginning Tuesday night at Coors Field.
"They want to win and we want to win also," Ramirez said of the fans, doing his best to deflect their unhappiness with his shaky glove and throwing arm, to go with an 0-for-4 at the plate that included a game-ending called third strike and further fueled speculation about what's wrong with his bat.
Ramirez's difficulty running down and cutting off well-struck hits by Mike Fontenot in the fourth inning and Aramis Ramirez in the Cubs' decisive two-run sixth inning were dismissed by losing Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley, who said neither of the defensive plays changed the outcome.
"I don't think the score would have been any different," said Billingsley, whose quality start (three runs, six innings) was wasted.
Ramirez ran as hard as usual after both balls. He bobbled the first one after reaching it in left-center, then threw wildly to third base for an error. The second one into the corner skipped under his backhanded attempt and caromed off the Mannywood railing toward center field, Aramis Ramirez's double turning into a triple. Ramirez then scored on Kosuke Fukudome's double, which also would have scored him from second base.
"I'm not a Gold Glove," Manny reminded reporters.
An eighth-inning Dodgers comeback attempt was foiled with a close call and bad timing. Russell Martin and Abreu opened the inning with walks, then Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot backhanded Mark Loretta's bouncer and threw on a bounce to second baseman Fontenot, who scooped and came off the bag in one motion. Second-base umpire Chad Fairchild called Abreu out and manager Joe Torre argued.
"I didn't see a replay, but he looked like he was off the bag when he caught the ball," Torre said.
Pinch-hitter Orlando Hudson popped up John Grabow's first pitch and Theriot missed the ball, but all the while third-base umpire Wally Bell was motioning that time was out, as the Dodgers were trying to send in Juan Castro to run for Loretta at first base.
"I saw the third-base umpire coming in before the pitch," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "My emotions were, 'Boy, what a bad break,' and then, 'What a good break.'"
Then Hudson bounced into the team's third double play. So if Ramirez's outfield exploits make for better blooper-reel footage than actual evidence of wrongdoing, it's really his offense, and that of his teammates, that has caused a 9 1/2-game division lead to wither.
Since Ramirez returned from suspension, his batting average has fallen 45 points (.348 to .303), the on-base percentage 113 points (.492 to .379) and the slugging percentage 95 points (.641 to .546).
"I think he's trying to carry everybody on his shoulders," Torre said of Ramirez, who hit .200 on the homestand with one RBI. "He's getting overanxious at bat."
And it's not all on Ramirez. The Dodgers scored five runs in the past three games and the only run they scored Sunday was unearned. They had only three hits off Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, including Tony Abreu's first RBI in almost two years.
The Dodgers sprinted out of the gate and were 21-8 with a 6 1/2-game lead when Ramirez was suspended. In the 50 games he was gone, they went 29-21 and increased their lead to 7 1/2 games. Since his return, they are 24-22.
Loretta, who played with Ramirez in Boston, offers a possible theory.
"I look at the suspension as being similar to an injury," he said. "When you come back from an injury after missing a long time, what sometimes happens is you come out of the gate OK, but after a week or two you hit a lull and the adrenaline sort of wanes and you hit a plateau because you're not really in baseball shape physically and mentally. I've had that happen. I'm not saying that's the case with Manny, but it could be."
"We're putting a lot of pressure on our starters by not scoring runs," Torre said after his pitching staff made it eight straight games of allowing three runs or fewer. "Every single inning they're trying to be careful. I thought Chad threw the ball a lot better than last time."
Billingsley continues to pitch with a tender hamstring tightly wrapped, but he said it doesn't bother him pitching.
Jake Fox, who had four hits, homered off Billingsley with one out in the second inning. The Dodgers tied it in the bottom of the inning when Matt Kemp reached second base on Aramis Ramirez's throwing error and was singled home by Abreu, in his first Major League start since 2007. Abreu played second base for Hudson, who was 0-for-7 with four strikeouts against Dempster.