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They succeed in first

You can't tell by how they act, but it's special

September 24, 2008|Bill Plaschke

Through the thick tension that enveloped the Dodgers' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon, a pennant-race game blared ominously from one of the overhead plasma televisions.

The Boston Red Sox game?

So, well, OK, couch spectator Manny Ramirez apparently forgot which pennant race he was playing in.

And, OK, so neither did Angel Berroa, who was stressing so much he was flying a remote helicopter near his locker.

Nearly landed that sucker on Delwyn Young's head.

Berroa was excited because the helicopter had just been sent to him in the clubhouse, which makes another point about this team.

Remember several years ago when some players received steroids in the Dodger Stadium mail?

These guys are taking delivery of toys.

These guys are hanging looser than Matt Kemp's uniform pants, bouncing more freely than Ramirez's hair, thrilled to be back home, stretching toward October.

Shortly after the Arizona Diamondbacks lost to the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night -- yeah, Manny, that's the team chasing you, Arizona -- the Dodgers wiped out the San Diego Padres, 10-1.

Their West Division lead is now three. Their magic number is now three. Even with all their vulnerabilities, only the blackest of that magic could cause their collapse now.

As quickly as this race felt tight, it now feels over.

"This season I've seen real growth, real progress," said owner Frank McCourt on Tuesday afternoon. "Now we'll see how close we are."

Close enough that they mostly ignored the Diamondbacks before the game, then finished them off about 20 minutes into the game.

Close enough that Ramirez could inspire them not only with his bat, but his feet.

First inning, runners on second and third against dazed and confused Padres kid Wade LeBlanc.

It appeared as if LeBlanc wanted to intentionally walk Ramirez then changed his mind, choosing instead to hang a curveball over the middle that Ramirez pounded into left-center field to score two runs.

Then it got exciting, with Ramirez stretching the routine single into a double against the slow reaction and throw of Padres center fielder Will Venable.

Ramirez laughed. The Dodgers dugout howled.

Inspired? The next four Dodgers reached base, highlighted by Nomar Garciaparra's three-run homer.

By the time that inning ended, the Dodgers led, 6-0.

In St. Louis, the Diamondbacks were watching the score and curling up into a weepy ball, leaving numerous runners on base in a 7-4 loss to the Cardinals.

Monday's day off gave them back their legs, and Manager Joe Torre then gave them their mantra.

"I tried to remind them to stay aggressive, to be who you are," Torre said.

If the Padres and Diamondbacks keep folding, and the Dodgers keep partying, this division could be clinched here by Thursday night.

"It's been a rocky road, a lot of things have happened here, a lot of growth has gone on," Torre said. "Hopefully we're able to do something special."

Tuesday night showed once again that "special" comes in all shapes and sizes.

It was special that the Dodgers shrugged off the pressure and swung the bats as if it were the third week of March on a windy day in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

"We know what we have to do; it's the things we've been doing," Kemp said. "We've been loose lately. We have to stay that way."

It was special too that a guy such as Blake DeWitt worked a full count before hitting a three-run homer in the fifth inning, the second baseman again showing there is life after Jeff Kent.

Then again, it was also special that the Padres played like many of the other Dodgers victims in the last month.

They were horrendous.

The last-place team ran themselves out of one inning, let a fly ball drop in another inning, and then brought in Charlie Haeger, a 25-year-old kid with a career 6.03 earned-run average who throws knuckleballs.

Yeah, not a good sign. Two innings and three runs later, that didn't work out so well.

All this, and before the game, it was announced that Padres batting coach Wally Joyner quit, and could you blame him?

As for the Dodgers, just remember that the Padres are no different than many of their opponents in the last month.

The last time the Dodgers beat a team that currently has a winning record was Aug. 17.

Running against nags is a good way to win a division but doesn't do much to prepare one for the stakes races of the postseason.

"We've played everyone and haven't been manhandled by anyone," Torre said. "I'm confident of where we are."

Then again, if Tuesday was any indication, some of these Dodgers aren't even sure where they are, much less who they are playing.

For the record, the Diamondbacks' game was on one of the Dodgers clubhouse televisions before Tuesday's game.

I know, because I was one of only two people watching it.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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