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HELENE ELLIOTT

Pressure seems to be getting to the Dodgers

As their lead in the NL West shrinks, they don't appear to be very comfortable.

August 24, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

Manny Ramirez insisted Sunday that a lot of teams "want to be in our shoes now," but the Dodgers don't seem comfortable in those shoes, their lead over Colorado in the National League West having melted to 3 1/2 games after a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs at a fast-emptying Dodger Stadium.

The Rockies finish a series against the San Francisco Giants tonight at home, so the Dodgers' margin could be three games by the time they open a three-game series Tuesday at Coors Field.

A lead that peaked at 9 1/2 games on June 3 and was at nine games as recently as July 25 could be gone by week's end.

Yes, the Dodgers are feeling the pressure of the Rockies' pursuit, and it's not a happy sensation.

Orlando Hudson, rested Sunday but called on to pinch-hit in the eighth inning, answered every question from reporters with another question. His tone was testy, too testy for a player whose team had just taken three of four from the Cubs.

"The only footsteps we hear are our own footsteps. We hear your footsteps coming to ask questions sometimes, though," he said. "Other than that, we don't hear footsteps."

Maybe they're not listening closely enough. The Rockies were 15 1/2 games behind them in June and can pull into a tie for first on Thursday.

They didn't have to pay close attention to hear the first substantial boos directed at Ramirez during his Dodgers career. He was charged with a throwing error in the fourth and then was too casual in playing Aramis Ramirez's shot to left into a triple in Chicago's two-run sixth. Fans responded with more than a few jeers when he came to bat in the bottom of the seventh and a mixed reception when he came to bat again in the ninth.

He took a called third strike to end the game, leaving him hitless in four at-bats. He was five for 25 on the just-completed homestand but disagreed with Manager Joe Torre's assessment that he's trying to "carry everybody on his shoulders" while the team struggles to regain its footing.

Ramirez also said he's not worried that the Dodgers' once-commanding lead has withered in recent weeks.

"We've got to go out and play hard and if not, we come back next year and play again," Ramirez said. "We're not going to go and kill ourselves, you know."

There is still time for the Dodgers to protect or pad their lead and for the hitting to be as good as their pitching, which figured to be a problem but hasn't held them back.

The Dodgers' pitching staff has given up three runs or fewer in eight straight games. The bullpen has contributed 10 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings and 18 innings without giving up an earned run in the last five-plus games.

Their hitting is a different story.

"I think you just go through that little bit of a dip," Torre said. "I don't think they're tired. I think they may be trying a little too hard. . . . This is just the baseball season."

A season that could turn on this series against the Rockies, and the Dodgers know it.

"Obviously, we'd rather have that 10-game lead, or whatever we had about a month ago, but they've been playing well," Casey Blake said. "You've got to hand it to those guys for fighting back.

"We've got a battle on our hands. It should be exciting. It's going to add more importance."

The Dodgers have dominated Colorado, winning 10 of the 12 games this season. They last met in a series that ended July 1.

"It's up to us to take care of business," Torre said. "We've played them well this year and hopefully we'll continue to do that."

They need more than hope to guide them in Colorado.

They need Manny being the Manny who hits, the one who can carry a team but shouldn't have to.

They also need to regard their first real test this season as a cause for motivation, not paralysis.

Hudson, asked about the pressure the Dodgers will face at Colorado, responded with a question of his own.

"Why is there pressure?" he said.

"There could be a young writer coming out of USC closing in on you too. She's probably in the office right now talking to the boss man.

"If I don't see you here next year I'll know what happened. I'll see some young, 19-year-old girl here right out of USC, she got your card. You never know."

No, you never do.

But the Dodgers know what's ahead, and it won't be easy.

"We just got to go out and play good ball," Hudson said. "We can't be worried about Colorado or San Francisco or whoever and what they're doing. As long as we're playing good baseball and doing what we're supposed to do, there should be no reason to look back."

But now maybe there is.

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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