RIP Jose Lima: The colorful right-hander and his unforgettable one season with the Dodgers
He was a piece of work, and I mean that in the most favorable way.
It’s hard to imagine a moment when Jose Lima wasn’t colorful, when Latin music didn’t seem to burst through his every step, when energy didn’t beam from him like the proverbial thousand points of light, when he wasn’t full of life.
Until now, of course. Sadly, until now.
Lima, only 37, died in Los Angeles on Sunday of an apparent heart attack.
His tenure as a Dodger was brief, just one season, but it was memorable and historic. And for Lima, a last hurrah.
Lima came to the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee in 2004, his career seemingly over at age 31, his 21-win and All-Star season with the Astros in 1999 feeling like a lifetime ago.
Yet he not only made their roster, but ultimately their rotation. And hr not only joined the rotation, but became one of their more effective starters.
The Dominican went 13-5 with a 4.07 earned-run average in 2004. Though he no longer had the same power of his youth, he won with guile and experience and determination.
He pitched and walked and almost breathed with a rhythm that seemed infectious to most Dodgers fans. He once sang the national anthem before a home game at Dodger Stadium. His band played at the Dodgers’ annual Viva Los Dodgers celebration.
But the highlight of his year with the Dodgers, and perhaps his career, came in the playoffs when he pitched a five-hit shutout over the St. Louis Cardinals for the Dodgers’ first postseason victory since their 1988 World Series title.
By the ninth inning, the Dodger Stadium crowd was chanting his name.
"Though he was taken from us way too soon, he truly lived his life to the fullest and his personality was simply unforgettable," said Dodgers owner Frank McCourt in a statement. ``He had the ability to light up a room and that’s exactly what he did every time I saw him.’’
Lima returned to the Kansas City Royals in 2005, but was out of magic. After a few starts the following year with the Mets, he was finally out of Major League Baseball.
There would be a stint in South Korea, a run with the Long Beach Armada in the independent Golden League and winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but the career of the dynamic right-hander that Dodgers fans knew was over.
Living in L.A., last month he had joined the Dodgers alumni group. He was preparing to make appearances on behalf of the team and a return musical appearance this summer at Viva Los Dodgers.
He attended Friday’s game, and when introduced between innings, received a warm ovation.
One last moment, for Lima Time.
Photo: Starting pitcher Jose Lima works against San Diego in 2004, earning his 10th win of the season. Credit: Damon Winter / Los Angeles Times