Jose Lima, former major league pitcher, dies at 37

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Pitcher Jose Lima #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers waves to the crowd as he walks off the field after the National League Division Series Game Four loss 6-2 to St. Louis Cardinals on October 10, 2004 at Dodger Stadium.

Jose Lima, the energetic All-Star right-hander who was a 21-game winner and dubbed his outings on and off the mound as "Lima Time," died Sunday, the Los Angeles Dodgers said. He was 37.

Lima, who won 13 games with the Dodgers in 2004, died of an apparent heart attack, according to the Aguilas Cibaenas, a winter ball team that Lima had played for in the Dominican Republic.

"Lima was an exceptional man. This is a great loss for Dominican baseball and the country," team president Winston Llenas said.

Lima posted his best season in 1999 when he was selected to the All-Star game as a Houston Astro. He went 21-10 in 35 starts with a 3.58 ERA for the NL 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, with a 46-42 record from 1997-2001.

"He was an animated guy and a fierce competitor and he got people excited," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "It's just so sad when you lose one of your peers."

Lima revived his career several times, bouncing between the independent league and the minors, and in 13 major league seasons, the native of the Dominican Republic was 89-102 with a 5.26 ERA. He hadn't pitched in the major leagues since 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 Yankees star. "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."

Popular with fans and animated on the mound, his merengue music became a familiar fixture in the Astros clubhouse.

"He was a man full of life, without apparent physical problems and with many plans and projects on the agenda," his wife, Dorca Astacio, told ESPNdeportes.com.

On Friday night, he 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."

With the Dodgers in 2004, Lima had a record of 13-5 and a 4.07 ERA after making the club as a non-roster invitee following 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.

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 prior to a home game in 2004. He performed with his band at the team's annual Viva Los Dodgers celebration.

Lima enjoyed himself as much off the field as on. He often sang and danced at Astros functions around Houston.

"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. `Lima Time' was whenever he was pitching, or at any event or club function or civic function that he was at. He'd get up and sing and dance, and he was very, very good. He was a real entertainer."

Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila played against Lima last winter in the Dominican league. He recalled Lima would run over to him during warmups to say hello and wish him luck.

"He was still enjoying it like if he was a kid out there," Avila said. "Anytime he pitched anywhere over there, it was like a party for him. Every time he ran onto the field, there were cheers. People loved him."

The Dodgers said Lima had joined its player alumni group within the past month and was preparing to open a youth baseball academy this summer in Los Angeles.

Former Dodgers teammate Guillermo Mota said Lima loved to spend time with fans.

"He would sign autographs all the time and ask the kids, 'What time is it?' They would answer 'Lima Time!' I can see it right now," said Mota, now a San Francisco Giants reliever. "He had so much energy. I used to play catch with him and I'd be laughing on every throw."

Lima also pitched for Detroit and Kansas City.

"This is a shock for us because Lima was a young man who seemed healthy and nobody imagined this," said Tomas Jimenez, manager of the Aguilas Cibaenas.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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Associated Press Writers Christopher Weber and Dionisio Soldevila in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and AP Sports Writers Chris Duncan in Houston and Janie McCauley in Oakland, Calif., contributed to this report.

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