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Furcal's single gives Dodgers win

As a pinch-hitter, he drives in the game's only run in the eighth inning.

July 02, 2009|JIM PELTZ

The 50-game suspension of Manny Ramirez ended on the day the Dodgers became the first team to win 50 games this season -- and with the Dodgers' top standing in the National League, little changed from the day he was banned.

After squeaking past the Colorado Rockies, 1-0, at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, the Dodgers finished with a record of 29-21 during Ramirez's absence and are now 50-29.

The Dodgers also hold a seven-game lead in the NL West over the San Francisco Giants, which is half a game bigger than the lead they had when Ramirez was suspended May 7 for violating baseball's drug policy.

And they edged Colorado in front of 40,455 much the same way they won many of their games during the slugger's banishment: With credible, if at times wobbly, starting pitching; a solid bullpen and clutch hits in late innings.

"They've played hard," Manager Joe Torre said of his players. "It's not until you lose somebody like Manny that you realize there's no safety net out there."

He acknowledged that the team was "at a frustrated stage right now because we haven't scored runs and they're fighting it a little bit."

Indeed, when Ramirez returns Friday as the Dodgers play the Padres in San Diego -- after an off-day today -- the question is whether the rest of the team's offense will arrive as well.

Despite taking two of three from the Rockies, the Dodgers scored only five runs in the series, and they've scored a scant eight runs in their last five games.

After being shut out by Rockies starter Jason Hammel through seven innings Wednesday, the Dodgers' offense finally scored when Rafael Furcal -- pinch-hitting after not starting at shortstop to get some added rest -- singled home Russell Martin in the eighth inning for the deciding run.

"I was so happy for" Furcal because "he's been struggling, he feels he's been letting everybody down," Torre said.

Martin, the Dodgers' regular catcher who also hadn't started so he could rest, had entered the game as a pinch-runner for backup catcher Brad Ausmus, who started the rally with a single to right.

"It was good to get on base," Ausmus said, but he credited starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers' bullpen for keeping the game close.

"That's what you need as a winning team, that when your offense is struggling your pitching continues to throw well," Ausmus said.

Kershaw gave up only one hit and struck out five in five innings, but he also labored, walking five and throwing 97 pitches.

Kershaw said his command of his fastball "was pretty bad today. I really didn't have a great feel for where it was going, missing up a lot in the zone."

"I just tried to get through as many innings as I could," he said.

"When you don't have your best stuff, all you try to do is just compete and give the team a chance to win."

Relievers Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso -- who earned the victory -- shut out the Rockies until closer Jonathan Broxton could retire Colorado in the ninth inning for his 19th save.

The win enabled the Dodgers to avoid losing three consecutive series for the first time this season.

For much of the game, it appeared the Dodgers would have no better luck against Hammel (5-4) than they had the previous night against Rockies ace Jason Marquis, who beat the Dodgers on two hits, 2-0.

Hammel, 5-0 in his previous seven starts, didn't give up a hit until the fifth inning, when James Loney doubled.

The ongoing hitting struggles of Martin, Furcal and others mean the Dodgers have room to improve as Ramirez comes back aboard, Torre said.

Even so, he praised the Dodgers for getting "a lot out of what we have. We're in first place, we've played well."

Up next: The expected frenzy surrounding Ramirez's return Friday.

Said Torre: "We're prepared for it."


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