LOS ANGELES (AP) - Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers won't have Manny Ramirez at their disposal for the rest of his 50-game drug suspension, they plan to keep grinding it out as though nothing had happened. That may be easier said than done, despite his teammates' bravado.
"This is a team. This is not the 'Los Angeles Mannys,'" said injured first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who played with Ramirez on Boston's 2004 World Series team.
"We're a really good team here, and Manny's a big part of our team. But as far as the team goes, this is a tremendous opportunity for us to prove to people that we're not just Manny and 24 other guys."
Mannywood was rocked Thursday when the All-Star outfielder was suspended by commissioner Bud Selig for using a banned drug. In the first game of his suspension, the Dodgers scored six runs in the first inning and ended up losing 11-9 to the Washington Nationals - ending their modern-day major league record 13-0 home start.
Manager Joe Torre and general manager Ned Colletti learned the news during an early morning phone call from team owner Frank McCourt. Torre talked to Ramirez during the day by phone, then spoke to the team during a closed-door meeting before batting practice about how they're going to adjust.
"The mood was sad in the clubhouse," Torre said. "You can't have someone who's as much of an impact player and personality as Manny is missing without it affecting people.
"He feels very badly. Right now he's trying to gather his thoughts," Torre added. "The worst thing I think a person can be is a disappointment to somebody else, and Manny feels like a disappointment. As tough as it is for us, it's pretty tough for Manny, too. I know he's the one that did the wrong thing and nobody is trying to cover that up, but it's still something that I know he's sorry about."
A few months ago, when contract negotiations were deadlocked with the dreadlocked slugger, catcher Russell Martin boldly insisted the team could win without him if he decided not to re-sign with the defending NL West champions.
Now, the Dodgers will get a chance to prove it.
"Do I still think we can win without him? I think he makes us a better team when he's with us, but without him we still have a good team and we're still capable of winning us some ball games," Martin said Thursday. "He's one of the best hitters of all time, so it's definitely going to be tough. But what can you do? You've just got to move on and keep plugging away. You have to take it either as a challenge, and that's what we're going to do."
Ramirez is batting .348 with six home runs and 20 RBIs through the first 27 games of the season.
"Manny's not in our lineup, so we can't be concerned about Manny right now," third base coach Larry Bowa said. "There are 25 guys on the roster, and that's what we're worried about right now. Hopefully when Manny comes hack, we're still playing good baseball and he can contribute. But we've got some good players here. He hasn't won all 21 games by himself."
Seven players from the 1959 Dodgers were on hand Thursday night for a pregame ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their World Series title. But all the talk naturally centered on guy who wasn't born until 1972.
"Hey, players know the consequences. You make the wrong decisions, you've got to pay," Bowa said. "I'm turned off by players who try to test the system. It just doesn't make any sense. When a guy makes a decision like that, he has to live by it. There's too many people you can go to for advice, like the team doctor or the trainer. And if you have any kind of doubt at all, you've got to go to them."
The Dodgers lead San Francisco by 5 1-2 games, with the Giants coming into Dodger Stadium Friday night to begin a three-game series. Ramirez is eligible to return July 3 at San Diego, and the goal is build that margin instead of just treading water.
"It's not like an injury, where we're playing a guessing game wondering when he's going to be coming back. We know we're getting him back on a certain date," said right fielder Andre Ethier, who started in Ramirez's No. 3 spot in the order against Washington.
"But we're not going to be looking forward to that date and saying if we just hold on until then, we'll be all right. We're going to keep going out there charging ahead and playing the game the way we've been doing the last couple of weeks here. We have enough depth, talent and confidence to keep moving on here."
Juan Pierre, who's been stuck on the bench ever since the Dodgers got Ramirez at the non-waiver trade deadline last July, will be the regular left fielder in his absence. But he isn't enjoying the circumstances surrounding his chance to play regularly again.
"I'll pray for him and his family that they get through this all OK, and I wish the best for them. That's all I got," Pierre told reporters.
Even before the first pitch of the game, Ramirez suspension had a noticeable effect at the concession stands at Chavez Ravine on Wednesday night. The Manny-style dreadlock hats that had been on sale had been pulled, along with the rest of the Manny-related memorabilia. More than one vendor said they were instructed not to sell anything related to Ramirez until further notice.
Ramirez ranks 17th all-time with 533 home runs. His carefree attitude made him popular with many local fans, and there was evidence all over the city how much the image-conscious Dodgers were marketing him.
At the corner of Figueroa Street and 8th Street, for example, is an above-ground parking garage with a gigantic sign, big as life, with "MANNYWOOD" covering one entire side of the structure.
"You can't change what's happened," Mientkiewicz said. "But it doesn't change the way I feel about him as a person, as a teammate and as a player. We're a family in here, and one of our family members is not with us."