2:23 AM EDT, October 15, 2013
More than two hours before Monday's first pitch, amid the early stirrings of a stadium on the brink, two men made a single quiet decision.
They each announced it alone. They each spoke while wincing in pain. There were no fans around to cheer it. There were no teammates nearby to inspire it.
Yet it was a decision that altered legacies, energized a city and perhaps even saved a season.
In the Dodgers' dugout, Hanley Ramirez announced he was going to play Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals with a broken left rib.
"This is no time to lay down right now," said Ramirez. "Since day one since I got here, they've showed me a lot of love and lot of respect, I'd do anything for this team and this city, so I'm going to be out there tonight for the fans and my teammates."
Outside the Dodgers' batting cage, Andre Ethier announced he was going to play baseball with a microfracture above his left ankle.
"It's definitely a thing where you don't want to have regrets, not going out there and giving it a shot," he said. "Strap it on and go figure it out as we go."
Together, they strapped it on. Together, they figured it out as they went. And, man, did they go, cringing and stumbling and swinging and soaring and somehow helping the Dodgers to a 3-0 victory over the Cardinals to close the series deficit to two games to one.
"I just can't wait to get to my bed and get some rest," said Ramirez.
On a night when their inspiration rubbed off on a roaring crowd that included a dugout dancing bear in the ninth inning and a renewal of hope that the Dodgers still have a chance, Ramirez and Ethier undoubtedly fell into those beds. They spent the game beating back obvious, wearying pain. It stifled them, but it didn't stop them, and in the end, they not only played through it, they shined through it.
"When the time came, they did not tap out," said reliever J.P. Howell. "They grinded through it, everyone in this clubhouse saw it and appreciated it."
They entered to roaring ovations, and responded with expected awkwardness that was overshadowed by an October toughness.
Ramirez, who suffered the broken rib when he was hit by a pitch in the series opener and missed Game 2, had two blooping hits in four at-bats with the game's final run batted in. Yet his most important contribution was a gritted-teeth popout to right field that moved Mark Ellis to third base in the fourth inning after a leadoff double. From there, Ellis scored the game's first run on Adrian Gonzalez's double down the right-field line.
Ramirez couldn't complete a couple of potential double plays because he couldn't move very well. He tried to smile after every swing, but sometimes it looked as if he were holding in a scream. And he did it all while lumbering around in the same sort of protective vest worn last season by USC running back Curtis McNeal after trainers and equipment folks from the Trojans, the Clippers and the Kings showed up at Dodger Stadium to lend a hand.
"Hanley was so amazing, playing in so much pain, wanting to play so badly," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "It was so impressive."
Afterward, Ramirez was the last Dodger to exit the training room and shower, appearing more than an hour after the game. He walked slowly out to a locker crowded with reporters, whom he faced while wearing blue towels, a white beaded necklace and a huge sigh.
Are you in pain? "Yeah, a little bit."
What was the hardest part? "Everything."
How do you feel? "I just started cooling off, the pain is going to come out now."
Ethier entered the game after not starting in Game 2 because of an ankle injury that kept him on the bench late in the season and prohibited him from starting in the earlier division series win over Atlanta. He entered the game because he said he finally realized he had no choice.
"It's been four years since our last shot out here, you never know if you'll ever get this chance again, I've got to go for it," he said.
He wasn't always pretty, going hitless in four at-bats, and struggling to run down a fly ball that fell in front of him for a single. But he had one of the game's most important at-bats in that two-run fourth inning. With Gonzalez on second base after his double, Ethier hit a grounder to second base that moved Gonzalez to third and brought up Yasiel Puig, who followed with the triple that he celebrated like a home run.
Gonzalez was thankful not only for Ethier's grounder, but just for his presence.
"It was big that Dre was behind me," Gonzalez said, noting it would have been tougher if Puig were batting behind him. "With the way Puig was swinging the bat, I think they might have walked me. But with Dre they were still like, 'He could do the job.'"
Ramirez and Ethier both did their jobs in ways previously thought unimaginable. Both men entered this season with reputations of being selfish players. Despite using this season to change those reputations — Ramirez playing with a variety of injuries, Ethier willing moving to center field — they both entered Monday night with more questions that have finally been answered.
"Both of these guys have had [reputations] of being more about themselves than about the team, probably in our clubhouse too, but both of these guys have been about winning all year," said A.J. Ellis.
So Dodger Stadium is expected to come alive again tonight in Game 4 with hopes for more winning, more Hanley, more Dre, this series having been put back together by these two broken parts.
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