NEW YORK -- For someone just back, Manny Ramirez made quite an exit.
After looking at another strike three, the Dodgers star dropped his bat, tossed his helmet and flung his protective gear Tuesday night. Booed for much of the game against the New York Mets, Ramirez then heard his departure cue from plate umpire John Hirschbeck.
The formerly suspended slugger was ejected as he walked toward the outfield for the bottom of the fifth inning. By then, he'd done enough damage, driving in three runs as Los Angeles took a 5-0 lead.
Such an abrupt end to what began as a jovial evening.
Hours before game time, Ramirez walked into the clubhouse, spotted the waiting flock and broke into a familiar grin.
"Whoa. Whoa," the Dodgers' main man said. "Most wanted."
Far from his fans in Southern California, Ramirez received a less-than-sunny reception in his first at-bat -- from the crowd and the plate umpire.
Booed for about 20 seconds when he came up, he took a 3-2 pitch from Mike Pelfrey, chucked his bat aside and began heading toward first base. That's when he heard Hirschbeck call strike three.
Ramirez spun around and argued for a moment, to the crowd's delight, and kept barking from the dugout. When he took his spot in the left field for the bottom of the first, several fans stood in the front row above the wall and snapped cell phone pictures.
Ever affable, Ramirez came up the next inning, met Hirschbeck with a smile and spread his hands about a foot apart, perhaps showing the crew chief how much the disputed pitch missed the plate by. Ramirez then delivered a two-out, bases-loaded single that scored two runs and added an RBI single his next time up.
But in the fifth, Ramirez wasn't so jolly after striking out with the bases loaded. He was halfway through the infield when Hirschbeck inspected what Ramirez had thrown and tossed him.
Ramirez took a left turn and went to the dugout while Dodgers manager Joe Torre came out to talk with Hirschbeck.
Ramirez was much more easygoing in the hours leading up to the first pitch. Seeing the pregame throng of reporters, he pretended to count each of them.
"Look at how easy I do it," he said.
He was chatty before the series opener at Citi Field but brushed back all questions about his 50-game suspension for using a banned female fertility drug. He repeated several times that he didn't want to talk about the past, albeit never with a stern tone.
And when it came to the future, he was downright playful. Tapping a reporter's notebook, he said: "Put in a good word for the All-Star Game next year."
Ramirez finished seventh among NL outfielders in fan voting for starting All-Star spots. He began the night hitting .333 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs.
Ramirez returned from his penalty over the weekend, starting two games at San Diego and pinch-hitting Sunday. Many fans made the drive down from Los Angeles to see him at Petco Park, and he drew far more cheers than jeers.
Asked what kind of reception he'd get against the Mets, he said, "I don't know. What do you think?"
Predicted Torre: "I think they're going to boo him."
After all, booing is something of a spectator sport in New York. Yet the razzing Ramirez got was nothing close to what Atlanta's Chipper Jones routinely receives or even what Mets fans might unleash on their own David Wright after a misplay.
One fan held up a placard with a drawing of a syringe. That said, it was not nearly as harsh as the greeting Yankees star Alex Rodriguez drew in May at Baltimore in his first major league game since admitting he used steroids.
Wearing a blue Dodgers shirt, Bill George sat 12 rows off the field, down the left-field line. He's a season ticket-holder at Dodger Stadium and had come East with his teen son on a ballpark tour.
"I think Manny is a talented player and an interesting personality. But I'm not thrilled with his behavior. To put in bluntly, he cheated," George said.
"I won't boo him, but I won't clap for him like he's a returning war hero," he said.
Ramirez creates a storm most everywhere he goes, though he often seems oblivious.
About two hours before game time, with fans eager to see him take the field, Ramirez stood outside the Mets' clubhouse, casually twirling a bat and chatting with New York shortstop Alex Cora, a former Boston teammate.
If Ramirez had a care in the world, it sure didn't show.
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