LOS ANGELES - Jose Lima lived over the top on and off the baseball field. The free-spirited pitcher could deliver a song as well as a fastball, leaving a trail of fun and laughter known as "Lima Time" wherever he went.
The All-Star righthander who spent 13 years in the major leagues died yesterday, according to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was 37.
Lima, who pitched the Dodgers to their first playoff win in 16 years in 2004, was in full cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived at his Pasadena home early yesterday morning, police said in a statement. He was pronounced dead at Huntington Memorial Hospital.
The specific cause of death has not been determined, and Los Angeles County coroner's officials will perform an autopsy, the statement said. Pasadena police detectives also are investigating.
"Lima was an exceptional man," said Winston Llenas, president of Aguilas Cibaenas, a winter-ball team that Lima had played for in the Dominican Republic. "This is a great loss for Dominican baseball and the country."
Lima posted his best season with the Houston Astros in 1999 when he was selected to the All-Star Game. He went 21-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 35 starts for the National League Central champions.
"It saddened me greatly to hear of Jose's passing," Astros owner Drayton McLane said. "He was truly a gifted person both on the field and off of it. He could dance, he could sing, but his best gift of all was that he was an extremely happy person. He just lit up our clubhouse with his personality, which was his greatest asset. Jose was not shortchanged in life in any way. He lived life to the fullest every day."
Lima spent the majority of his career in Houston, compiling a 46-42 record from 1997 to 2001. He also pitched for Detroit and Kansas City.
He revived his career several times, bouncing between the independent league and the minors. The Dominican pitcher was 89-102 with a 5.26 ERA in 348 games in the majors, with his last appearance a four-game stint with the New York Mets in 2006.
"When you faced Jose Lima, you didn't know what to expect from him," said Mariano Duncan, Dodgers first-base coach and former major league infielder. "He had a good fastball, a good changeup and good breaking ball. He was a good baseball player and a good friend. Nobody enjoyed the game more than him, and we're going to miss him."
On Friday night, Lima attended a game at Dodger Stadium, where he was introduced between innings and received an ovation from the crowd.
"Horrible news. It's so sad," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "His energy was infectious. It's a big loss. He was a showman and a hot dog, but he won games. He willed himself to do it. He always had a smile on his face."
Lima went 13-5 with a 4.07 ERA in 2004 after making the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee to spring training.
In the National League Division Series, Lima pitched a five-hit shutout against the St. Louis Cardinals in front of a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium. It was the Dodgers' first postseason win since Game 5 of the 1988 World Series.
"Fifty-five thousand people screaming his last name, 'Lima, Li-ma, Li-ma,"' said Mets infielder Alex Cora, who started at second for Los Angeles in that 2004 game. "It was amazing."
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt called Lima's electric personality "unforgettable."
"He had the ability to light up a room and that's exactly what he did every time I saw him," the owner said in a statement.
McCourt said Lima further endeared himself to fans when he sang the national anthem and "God Bless America" at a home game in 2004. He performed with his band at the team's annual Viva Los Dodgers celebration.
"He had a great flair and such enthusiasm for life," said Tal Smith, president of baseball operations for the Astros. " 'Lima Time' was a special time. "