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T.J. SIMERS

Manny's messing with the standings

September 07, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

Manny Ramirez holds up his glove before the game. "It's illegal," he says.

The glove is red, white and blue, so the obvious conclusion is the colors aren't within the rules.

"It's illegal," Ramirez explains, while always mocking his own shortcomings, "because it catches everything," and everyone in the clubhouse laughs.

It happens a lot around here now, music blasting, which is against the rules, dreadlocks flowing in the wind, and who rules the Dodgers these days?

"It starts late in the game," Manager Joe Torre says with a grin. "I'll hear, 'Joe, Joe,' from the end of the dugout and it's Manny looking for me to take him out, and I just point to left field.

"He's always messing with me. I asked him if he wanted to face the Arizona left-hander and he says, 'Why don't you put in one of your young players,' and I have to tell him, 'Don't tell me how to manage.' Then he sits next to Greg Maddux and tells him how he got me."

Recently the Dodgers have asked Ramirez to go out early and work on his throws from the outfield, Ramirez complying but with a twinkle.

"What is this?" he says. "You see what they've got me doing? My arm's gone because they got me working so much."

But then he makes a good play the other day, running into the dugout afterward to tell everyone, "Gold Glove, Gold Glove."

At times he refers to himself as Dave Roberts, other times as Juan Pierre, because he's running hard to first base all the time, jabbing himself publicly now for not always doing so.

Now maybe pitching makes the difference, as Torre likes to maintain, Lowe & Billingsley so much better than Haren & Webb and the Diamondbacks left for dead. But this is L.A., and the Dodgers finally have star power.

"No question, Manny took us to another level here," Torre says. "He just came from a world championship team with an attitude of let's have some fun, guys. And if you want to watch him prepare every day -- a lot of guys were surprised and so was I at the regiment he follows -- then fine.

"He's also a lot deeper than I thought. He has a feel for the game, more than just hitting. And he's very sensitive to other players' needs."

On Saturday he walked over to backup catcher Gary Bennett, the guy who can't throw the ball back to the pitcher like a big league player, and gave him a baseball handshake, which is an exchange of knuckles.

"How ya doing, coach?" Ramirez says, while probably having no idea of Bennett's name, or how he figures into the Dodgers' plans, but let's all get along here.

"He's a kick," Torre says. "He strikes out on three pitches [against Brandon Webb], takes off his helmet, returns to the bat rack, no complaining, no second-guessing about how he shouldn't have swung at that pitch, and the next time goes up there and hits the first pitch out of the park. That's being a hitter."

Ramirez has not only made a difference on the field, but he's been a force inside the clubhouse, young and old players united for the first time, every one of them afraid at any given moment Ramirez might spray them with perfume.

He got Page 2 Saturday.

"Every time I get you, I hit a home run," Ramirez says, and now when people say Page 2 stinks, they've got a point.

Five innings later Ramirez is hitting a three-run homer, his 11th for the Dodgers, who were power starved for much of the season, and at the same time maybe ending Arizona's year.

"Webb's nasty," Ramirez says, "he got me with an unbelievable changeup, so the next time up I studied him early, picked up the ball and that was it."

Home run Dodgers, and the stadium is filled with happy folks chanting Manny's name, and a playoff date with the Cubs looking likely. And now if the Parking Lot Attendant doesn't do everything he can to bring back Ramirez next season as a full-fledged Dodger, how does he invite the fans to return?

CASEY BLAKE was so excited before the game. "Got another great movie for you," he gushed, " 'Groundhog Day.' "

Apparently it just hit all the theaters in Iowa.

TODAY'S LAST word comes from a number of e-mailers saying almost the same thing, Glenn Tanner the most concise in his point:

"I am sure you noticed: Jeff Kent leaves -- Dodgers start winning, seven in a row, and now in first place. More than a coincidence? I think so."

I don't. Dodger success has more to do with playing crummy teams like the Padres and slumping Diamondbacks.

Hard to argue the Dodgers can't use a great competitor like Kent who gives the ticket-buying public everything he's got every game -- except a smile and a warm embrace for his teammates.

And no question he'll be back, because he hasn't told us yet what he really thinks of Charley Steiner.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers

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