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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Lima Time No More

There’s no worse way of receiving some bad news than awakening to it. How can you ever prepare yourself for the shocking news that one of the most charismatic pitchers of all time has died? You can’t — you just have to accept the harsh reality. Baseball lost a good man on Sunday when Jose Lima was found dead in his Los Angeles home at 37-years-old. The report is that he died of a massive heart attack which doesn’t sound right for a guy so young.

Lima Time was one of the most entertaining pitchers we’ve seen. He fit right up there with eccentric figures on the mound like Mark Fidryich and Turk Wendell. Every time he got to start it was “Lima Time” and when he did well he would make you “Believe it!” He had one of the most up-and-down careers as a pitcher, oscillating from the high of winning 21 games for the Astros in ’99 to going 7-16 with a 6.65 ERA the following year. He could pitch like an All-Star at times and then become the worst starter in baseball at others.

I don’t have too much personal experience with Major League players but I did have the pleasure of interacting with Lima on a few occasions in 2004. 2004 was the year Lima Time lit up Los Angeles, going 13-5 in what was his third best of 13 career big league seasons, a year I happened to work for the team in their P.R. department. Dodger fans loved Lima because he pitched well and entertained us both on the mound and off of it. He famously sang the National Anthem prior to a game, danced around the clubhouse showing off his salsa moves, and he gave excellent interviews. Lima was a fan favorite and loved being in the spotlight. He was always jovial, smiling, and making sure everyone around him was enjoying themselves too. If memory serves me correctly, Lima also had a lizard in the clubhouse that served as the team’s lucky mascot at the time and it may have even been named after him. He was quite a character.

Lima also gave Dodger fans the memory of a lifetime by pitching a gem in the 2004 NLDS against the Cardinals. Entering the ’04 playoffs, the Dodgers hadn’t won a game in the postseason since their World Series run in 1988. They had lost the first two games of the series to the powerhouse Cardinals 8-3 and were heading home with only Jose Lima standing in the way of an inevitable sweep. But on that Saturday afternoon, in front of a packed house of nearly 56,000 people, Jose Lima improbably shut down a stud St. Louis lineup featuring Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, and Larry Walker, allowing just five hits in a 4-0 win. The Dodgers lost the next day 6-2 and the Cardinals went on to the World Series, but the brilliance of Lima’s outing won’t ever be forgotten by Dodger fans. There’s a reason why he was so warmly received on Friday night when he was shown on the big screen at Dodger Stadium for the Dodgers/Tigers game — he pitched like a champ that year and earned all the cheers he received. Lima Time will be missed.

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