CHICAGO — When Hanley Ramirez disappeared headfirst into the stands at Wrigley Field on Sunday, the Dodgers' chances of winning the World Series might have vanished with him.
Ramirez, who tumbled into the seats down the left-field line after catching a wind-blown pop up, emerged from the seventh-inning wreckage with what the Dodgers described as a "jammed" right shoulder. The preliminary diagnosis was purposely vague, as the Dodgers didn't know whether the outstanding hitter would be sidelined for days, weeks or months. Ramirez is expected to undergo an MRI exam Monday in St. Louis.
High-ranking club officials said they were bracing themselves for the worst, which could explain why the atmosphere in the clubhouse was noticeably downcast in the wake of a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs. Although Yasiel Puig was expected back soon from a bruised thumb he suffered Saturday, Ramirez's throwing arm was cradled by a sling. There was more concern about Ramirez than there was excitement about how the Dodgers extended their franchise-record road winning streak to 14 games.
"Anything with him is serious because of what he's been able to do," Manager Don Mattingly said.
Ramirez played only four games in the first two months of the season, after which the Dodgers were in last place. The Dodgers are 51/2 games ahead of the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.
"What I said for a long time, our missing link was Hanley Ramirez," hitting coach Mark McGwire said. "The way he hits the baseball, he hits it right. You talk about a guy who hits the ball hard, he hits it with backspin, he has complete plate coverage, he knows exactly what the pitcher's trying to do to him. It cannot help but rub off on everybody."
The only definitive statement Mattingly made about Ramirez's shoulder was that it wasn't dislocated. Mattingly, who has acknowledged intentionally misleading reporters about the severity of injuries, wouldn't say whether he thought Ramirez was headed back to the disabled list.
Ramirez thought he would avoid his third DL stint this season, but the former batting champion acknowledged that was largely because he didn't want to consider the alternative.
Ramirez offered some more concrete reasons for his optimism. He said he never felt anything pop in his shoulder. He added that he felt worse when he suffered a similar injury playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and returned to play later in the winter.
"The difference was I was only DHing down there," the shortstop said.
Ramirez had surgery on his left shoulder two years ago.
The Dodgers' cleanup hitter, Ramirez is batting .361 in 54 games and has 11 home runs and 37 runs batted in. With Matt Kemp expected to be out until next month because of a sprained ankle, the Dodgers don't have a viable slugger capable of replacing Ramirez in the middle of the order. Puig has raised his average to .376 but has only three home runs in his last 26 games.
Nonetheless, the Dodgers could be better prepared to withstand Ramirez's absence than they were earlier in the season. Their rotation has been bolstered by the improved forms of Zack Greinke and Chris Capuano. What used to be a run-bleeding bullpen is now a strength, evidenced by how they completed their sweep of the Cubs: relievers Chris Withrow, J.P. Howell and Kenley Jansen combined for 32/3 innings after taking over for starter Stephen Fife.
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