08/03/08 2:33 AM ET
Manny energizes LA with first homer
Ramirez goes 2-for-4; Blake also goes deep for new team
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
He homered. He hustled. He high-fived every teammate in sight while receiving a hero's welcome in the dugout and acknowledged another frenzied sellout crowd with a quick curtain-call wave. He had two hits, scored two runs and drove in two.
His dreadlocks were all over the Dodgers' 4-2 victory against Arizona, trimming the deficit back to two games, infusing the lineup with the threat of his lethal bat and the energy of his presence.
"I feel like we just hit the lottery with him in the lineup," catcher Russell Martin said.
Living up to his image of difference maker, Ramirez overshadowed some other pretty important events, like Casey Blake's first homer as a Dodger, starter Hiroki Kuroda's return to form with 7 1/3 solid innings and a save by Chan Ho Park as Jonathan Broxton's weary arm was shut down for a day.
But there was no overlooking Ramirez, whose first Dodgers homer was his 21st of the season and 511th of his career, tying Mel Ott for 22nd all-time. He drove in Juan Pierre, who led off with a bunt that was ruled a single by plate umpire Derryl Cousins when Arizona catcher Miguel Montero gloved the ball before it had completely entered foul territory.
"To be honest, I'm still kind of nervous, kind of shy to settle in," Ramirez said. "The crowd really made me feel good. I like that they got my back and I got their back. The fans just want me to go out there and play hard."
It was a huge 428-foot blast to center, but home runs are the expectation. The surprise was Ramirez creating the Dodgers' fourth run in the sixth inning after a single by hustling -- that's right, hustling -- from first to third on James Loney's single to right and scoring on Jeff Kent's single to left.
Kent, who had two hits, was batting sixth for the first time in his Dodgers career and Andruw Jones was out of the starting lineup indefinitely, further examples of how dramatically the focus of this offense, and team, has changed.
Another example was the behavior in a normally subdued dugout, which absolutely erupted when Ramirez launched his home run, and the celebration went off the charts when he returned from his trot around the bases.
"It's Manny. All Manny," Martin said of the new atmosphere. "He's just fun to have around. He's energetic and outspoken. He wants to have fun. After the home run, I told him to go out [for the curtain call]. The crowd was going crazy. He's a great hitter. You saw in the first inning, with one swing of his bat he can lift a team. It's what he does."
But as manager Joe Torre reminded, the club still relies on its pitching and Kuroda's first win since July 7 was a welcome change. After staggering to a 13.11 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break, he allowed only four hits and no walks while striking out six. The only Diamondbacks run off him came on No. 8 hitter Montero's home run into the right-field box seats leading off the third inning.
Kuroda (6-8) retired the next 12 batters and finally gave way in the eighth after an error by Kent and a bloop single by pinch-hitter Jamie D'Antona.
Torre said the difference was Kuroda finishing off his breaking pitches. After returning from a sore shoulder before the All-Star break, he had been recoiling on sliders.
"That was the big factor," Kuroda said of the mechanical adjustment. "I worked on that with [pitching coach Rick] Honeycutt. I felt I had been a burden on the team."
Hong-Chih Kuo pitched the next 1 1/3 innings, coming within one out of his first career save, but Alex Romero singled home Conor Jackson. Torre then brought in Park, who got Chris Young on a fielder's choice grounder for his second save of the year.
Broxton, 5-for-5 in saves since taking over for the injured Takashi Saito, never warmed up.
"I've thrown nine straight days," Broxton said. "I'm sore like you'd expect. But they asked me if I could close and I said I could. They decided to give me a break."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.