Hanley Ramirez has waited his entire career to feel what he's feeling now.
"That's it right there," Ramirez said. "That's the feeling."
Two months in advance, Ramirez has been offered a glimpse of what it's like to play October baseball. If what he did Friday night was any indication, the brighter lights and louder crowds don't bother him.
Ramirez's two-run home run in the sixth inning lifted the Dodgers to a 2-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, driving a breaking ball from an otherwise indomitable Homer Bailey over the left-field wall at Dodger Stadium.
The home run was the 11th of Ramirez's injury-shortened season and Clayton Kershaw made it stand, limiting the Reds to one run and six hits over eight innings. Kenley Jansen closed out the game with a perfect ninth inning to preserve the Dodgers' half-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.
"It felt like a playoff game, really," Manager Don Mattingly said.
In the Reds, who won the series opener the previous night, the Dodgers faced a team with a record better than theirs. In Bailey, they faced the caliber of pitcher they could see in the playoffs. And playing in front of the second capacity crowd in as many nights, they played in the kind of atmosphere they could find themselves in should they win their division.
The Dodgers will play in front of their third sellout crowd in as many nights Saturday, as a full house is expected for a showdown between two of South Korea's most popular sporting figures, Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.
Mattingly acknowledged this win was more meaningful than any of the six games they won on their recent undefeated trip. Those wins came against the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays, two teams free-falling down the standings.
The Reds are in third place, but only because they are in the NL Central.
"This is a different thing," Mattingly said. "We know what division they're in."
This is new experience for Ramirez, who endured 61/2 years of losing with the Marlins before he was traded to the Dodgers last summer.
"Since I got here after that trade, everything changed," he said. "I think differently."
Here, he said, he and his teammates are more committed to each other. Here, he said, there's a greater emphasis on winning.
Adrian Gonzalez, for example, hasn't minded labeling himself a table-setter for Ramirez. A star in his own right, Gonzalez said, "My job is to create opportunities for him."
Gonzalez did that on this night, his single setting up Ramirez's blast that broke a scoreless stalemate.
Ramirez nearly scored in the fourth inning, when he singled to center, stole second base and advanced to third on a line out by Andre Ethier.
With one out, Juan Uribe hit a fly ball to right field. Ramirez tagged up as Jay Bruce threw a bullet to catcher Corky Miller. Ramirez ran by Miller's left shoulder untouched, prompting home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez to signal he was safe.
But in addition to running by Miller, Ramirez also ran by the plate. Ramirez cut back home and tried to dance around Miller, but failed to score before Miller swiped him with his glove.
"I couldn't slide," Ramirez said. "He was in my way."
Ramirez noted that he injured his right shoulder sliding on a similar play while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.