With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning Friday, Manny Ramirez had another chance to lead the Dodgers to another comeback victory. He had seen a similar situation against the Reds before. Back on July 22, he crushed a grand slam that was the difference in a Los Angeles win.
But this time was different. Unlike the many times he has carried the Dodgers back to victory, Ramirez watched a slider go right by him for the final out. It was a fitting way to end a 4-2 loss to the Reds. Two times before, Ramirez had a chance to rally Los Angeles, but couldn't deliver. And in Ramirez's case, the third time wasn't the charm.
"There's no question we need him," manager Joe Torre said of Ramirez. "That's the responsibility he's had for years. Right now, he's just out of whack."
The Dodgers had already added two runs in the final inning to close the gap. And Ramirez battled Reds closer Francisco Cordero for six pitches, fouling off three of them.
"We had the people we wanted up," Torre said. "We just didn't get it done."
Ramirez had similar chances in the sixth and eighth to put the Dodgers on the board. In the sixth, Rafael Furcal and Matt Kemp both singled to start the inning. But after Andre Ethier struck out, Ramirez flew out to right. Casey Blake then popped out to third to end the threat.
Ramirez came to the plate in the eighth with two runners on again. This time he rocketed a ball to center field but right into the glove of Drew Stubbs.
"He's dangerous and he's going to continue to be dangerous and start hitting again hopefully tomorrow," Torre said. "I have confidence in that part of him."
Ramirez was hit on the hand July 21 against the Reds. Since his grand slam the following night, his average has dropped from .348 to .306. Torre said Ramirez could have developed some bad habits while recovering from the injury but added that he doesn't think the injury is affecting the slugger now.
"Sometimes, when you try to compensate for something, your timing gets upset by it," Torre said. "Even if it was hurting, he wouldn't tell me, either."
Friday's starter, Chad Billingsley, has experienced similar struggles and showed them early on against the Reds. He lasted just five innings, giving up four runs on seven hits.
Since earning the July 22 win against the Reds, Billingsley is 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA after starting 10-5 with a 3.71 ERA.
"I'm struggling right now," Billingsley said. "I just need to get back into a groove and find my rhythm again."
After a perfect first, Billingsley ran into trouble with two outs in the second. He gave up a double to Wladimir Balentien and threw a wild pitch to advance him to third. Billingsley then gave up a single to Jonny Gomes to give the Reds a 1-0 lead.
Billingsley allowed two more runs in the second and another run in the sixth on a Gomes homer which made it 4-0.
"The first inning went well. I was keeping the ball down in the zone," Billingsley said. "I just kind of gradually came up in the zone."
And Billingsley didn't have any run support for the second consecutive start. Reds starter Homer Bailey shut the Reds out through eight innings.
"We were flat," Torre said. "We didn't do much damage early."
The Dodgers finally did some damage in the ninth when James Loney homered. They added another run on a wild pitch by Cordero.
But there would be no Manny magic this time against the Reds.