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A burst from Manny, a dud from the bullpen

Dodgers look like they can't wait for the All-Star break

July 05, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

FROM SAN DIEGO — July Fourth with the Dodgers was an independence day indeed, although some handled their freedom better than others.

Manny Ramirez, in his second game after being released from baseball's drug jail, was a human sparkler.

Ronald Belisario, a week after being released from police custody after being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, was a complete dud.

Just another weird day on a wacky team whose second-half push probably will be as easy as a holiday drive to the beach.

Ramirez began it with a crushing home run.

Belisario ended it with a crushing bout of wildness.

The San Diego Padres ignored the first guy, pounded the second guy, and scored six runs in their final two innings for a 7-4 victory at rollicking Petco Park.

Cheers for Manny, jeers for Ronny, another no-decision for Randy (Wolf), and, oh, anybody look up north lately?

The San Francisco Giants, with a better pitching staff than the Dodgers and none of their distractions, just outscored the Houston Astros 22-0 over the last two days and now trail by only 6 1/2 games in the National League West.

Not that next week's trip to New York and Milwaukee before the All-Star break is important, but, well, listen to the boss.

"It is huge," said Joe Torre. "All the work we've done to this point, we can't just look at the break and say, 'See you in the second half.' "

At the very least, it would be natural for the Dodgers to look at the break and say, "Get here, now."

Ramirez has filled their clubhouse with clutter, constant work has filled the league's most-used bullpen with uncertainty, and everybody is wondering when everything will just calm down.

"We're going to be OK," Orlando Hudson said Saturday, sounding as hopeful as determined.

"I'm telling you, everything is going to be OK."

They have lost six of their last 10 games, they've scored more than two runs in regulation in only half of those games, and their starting pitchers have won only two of those games.

"We're fine," Torre said. "We're used to all the bells and whistles."

From now through October, all of the noise will surround Ramirez, whose presence Saturday elicited standing ovations, a barrage of boos, angry showdowns between fans, flapping banners in the seats.

And one big boom.

Oh no he didn't.

Oh, yes, he did.

Ramirez clobbered a hanging mistake by Josh Geer on the fourth pitch he saw, knocking the ball into the left-field stands in the first inning as Petco erupted in a minute of happy, angry, solid noise.

That was the old Manny, taking him all of five at-bats to leave the yard.

Soon thereafter, though, fans saw some of the potentially new Manny, as he confronted first-base umpire Sam Holbrook after being called out on a grounder.

It was the first time I have seen Ramirez argue with anyone since becoming a Dodger, but before you accuse him of 'roid rage, listen again to the boss.

"I think it was just because he ran hard and didn't get anything out of it," Torre said with a grin.

Old Manny, new Manny, then old Manny again when he jumped late and turned the wrong way and barely caught a routine fly ball from Everth Cabrera in the fifth.

An inning later, he was gone, the move later haunting the Dodgers as he wasn't around to help them rally.

"If he was the DH, he would have stayed in there, but I don't think they're going to change the rules for us," Torre said. "He just needs a little more time to get back in shape."

He did show remarkable speed and dexterity in slipping out the back door of the clubhouse before meeting with the media, unfairly leaving his teammates to answer questions about him, but they say they can handle it.

"This will pass," Hudson said. "Pretty soon it will be back to normal, I know it will."

The Dodgers thought they had found normal midway through Saturday's game, after Wolf had given up one run in six innings to help the Dodgers to a one-run lead with nine outs left.

Enter the bullpen, which has held opponents to a league-low .224 average and should have been a good bet against the league's worst-hitting team.

Except, well, the seventh-inning guy is still dealing with an unsettling arrest and a potentially uncomfortable workload.

Saturday was the 42nd appearance for the rookie Belisario, a professional career high.

He has pitched 48 innings, which are nine short of his career high as a reliever.

Maybe he's not tired, but when he started the seventh inning by giving up a walk and a single before hitting a batter -- all three guys at the bottom of the lineup -- he sure seemed tired.

From there, singles by Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez accounted for three runs that gave the Padres the lead for good and led to the most important question of the day.

For which the ever-honest Torre had no answer.

Is one of the team's top three relievers gassed?

"We're all going to find out at the same time," Torre said. "His stuff is good, we know his ability, I guess we'll find out how consistent he'll be the rest of the year."

The rest of the year starts today with ace Chad Billingsley facing some Padres dude named Josh Banks.

It will be their last chance to catch their breath for a week, so the Dodgers better embrace it.

To them, surrounded by flares and booms and a falling sky, July Fourth was just another day.


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