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Ramirez brings back the buzz

Players say outfielder generates an excitement among the fans in Dodger Stadium that hasn't been felt since the days of Gary Sheffield.

August 05, 2008|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

The normal rules no longer apply at Dodger Stadium, and not just in terms of a certain player's yet-to-be-clipped dreadlocks.

In the eighth inning Sunday, there was applause when Manny Ramirez lofted a pitch down the right field line.

The cause for celebration?

Nothing more than a ball that drifted into foul territory, keeping the at-bat -- and the chance for another memorable Manny moment -- going.

Two pitches later, Ramirez obliged by legging out an infield single, his long hair flapping wildly against his shoulders as he raced down the first base line to collect his fourth hit of the day.

"We're just going out there and having fun," Ramirez said.

Nobody seems to be lapping it up more than Dodgers fans, who sold out the first two games the left fielder played at Dodger Stadium and purchased more than $125,000 worth of No. 99 T-shirts and jerseys since the slugger was acquired Thursday from the Boston Red Sox. When the Dodgers return home from the six-game trip that begins tonight in St. Louis, they'll find brown dreadlocks and blue ones for sale in the team stores.

Outfielder Juan Pierre, who has played at Dodger Stadium for nine years, the last two as a member of the home team, said he hasn't seen a hitter generate this kind of reaction here since Gary Sheffield during the early part of this decade.

"He has that kind of response when he comes to the plate," Pierre said of Ramirez, "and for all he's done in the game, rightfully so."

The future Hall of Famer is also being widely hailed in the clubhouse for his ability to protect the rest of a lineup that is suddenly playing power ball. The Dodgers have hit four homers and averaged 6.5 runs in their last two games, a more than twofold increase over the 2.9 runs they had averaged over their previous 10 games.

"It's unbelievable," catcher Russell Martin said. "We feel like we just won the lottery."

Luckiest are those who get to hit in front of Ramirez, the No. 4 hitter who is cleaning up with a .615 batting average, five runs batted in and a 1.154 slugging percentage in three games as a Dodger. Pierre, Matt Kemp and Russell Martin went a combined five for 14 Sunday and scored five runs during the Dodgers' 9-3 victory over Arizona.

"Pitchers are coming at me," said Kemp, the No. 2 hitter who had three hits, including a home run in the eighth inning. "I know they don't want to walk me because they have to get to Manny."

Said Martin, who has hit third in the batting order the last three games: "I'm sure I'm going to be getting more fastballs."

Although it seemed as if Ramirez saw his share of choice pitches during a weekend in which he went eight for 13, Manager Joe Torre said the slugger exhibited tremendous patience.

"He's fouling off a lot of the pitcher's pitches," Torre said. "That's the sign of a good hitter. Until you get that one that you can center cut, you basically fight your way in an at-bat, and that's what he's doing."

With 22 homers in 103 games this season, Ramirez gives the Dodgers the kind of power threat they haven't had since Adrian Beltre hit 48 homers in 2004.

"I don't think it's the home run; it's the threat of hitting the home run," Torre said. "It's going to put the opposing pitcher on notice that you're going to have to work hard to get through this."

Torre doesn't appear to be too worried about Ramirez cutting his hair, saying "I'm not really concerned at this point."

That should come as a big relief to Dodgers merchandising officials, who, in addition to the dreadlocks are readying blue skullcaps and helmets with dreadlocks descending from the bottom for the next homestand.

From his hair to the salsa music he's played on an iPod in the clubhouse, Ramirez has infused a unique sense of style into his teammates.

"He's kind of brought a new life to our team, it seems like," Martin said.

"Everybody on the bench is looser and having more fun. . . . It's fun coming to the ballpark just knowing that your team's better."

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

Ramirez factor

How Manny Ramirez fared in his three games with the Dodgers:

*--* DATE VS. AB R H HR RBI BB SO AVG Aug. 1 Arizona 4 0 2 0 0 0 0 500 Aug. 2 Arizona 4 2 2 1 2 0 1 500 Aug. 3 Arizona 5 2 4 1 3 0 1 615 TOTALS -- 13 4 8 2 5 0 2 615 *--*

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Winning presence

The Dodgers are 2-1 with Manny Ramirez starting in the outfield. How have they fared with their other outfielders? A look:

*--* PLAYER GS Team Rec. Pct. Andruw Jones 54 31-23 574 Matt Kemp 97 50-47 515 Andre Ethier 88 43-45 489 Juan Pierre 75 36-39 480 Delwyn Young 19 6-13 316 *--*

Source: Los Angeles Times

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