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HELENE ELLIOTT

Manny Ramirez gives fans a did-you-see-that moment

His dramatic pinch-hit grand slam, into the Mannywood section in left field on his bobblehead night, comes in a season increasingly filled with joys for the Dodgers.

July 23, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

You couldn't make this up.

Manny Ramirez, held out of the Dodgers' starting lineup Wednesday because of a sore left hand and visible until the sixth inning only in the form of a bobblehead doll given away to fans, strode out of the dugout to pinch-hit with the bases loaded, the score tied and the crowd roaring.

Despite skipping batting practice, Ramirez stroked the first pitch from reliever Nick Masset into -- yes -- the Mannywood section in left field.

It was one of those did-you-see-that moments in a season increasingly full of the small joys of close victories and great joys of dramatic deeds, like Ramirez's 21st career grand slam in the Dodgers' 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

"I thought it worked out pretty good," Ramirez said in the din of the Dodgers' clubhouse, while his teammates still marveled over what they had seen.

"I'm just happy to be a part of all this. It was special for me. I'm just blessed. Blessed."

For most of the night it seemed the bobblehead would be the only way fans would see Ramirez. It's a nifty toy -- he loved it so much that he dashed around the clubhouse before the game to point out details to teammates -- but as much as it resembled him down to the red yarn woven into his dreadlocks, it couldn't hit the way he does.

Then again, he doesn't have much competition in that department. In 16 games since his return from his 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy, he's 17 for 49 (.347) with four home runs and 17 runs batted in.

Manager Joe Torre said he knew Ramirez was ready and willing to pinch hit.

"Just the way he was sort of stalking around the dugout, I had a feeling he would do something if he got the opportunity," Torre said.

Opportunity knocked, and Ramirez drove it to left field for his first pinch-hit home run among his 538 career homers.

After taking two curtain calls to thank the fans, Ramirez paid tribute to his bobblehead by bobbing his head back and forth several times. It was another special moment in a season that has seen the Dodgers rise 27 games above .500 for the first time since the last day of their 1988 championship season.

They have had the best record in baseball for the last 2 1/2 months and it's now 61-34, for whatever that's worth. It's dazzling, but it doesn't guarantee them anything.

Since 1995, only one team that had the best regular-season record went on to win the World Series: the 1998 New York Yankees, winners of 114 games and then managed by Torre. The 2007 Boston Red Sox tied Cleveland for the most regular-season wins, with 96.

But the Dodgers, winners of five straight, say they're not about to become complacent.

"By no stretch of the imagination can you sit back and say, 'We're going to save gas here.' You have to go out there and try to improve your record," Torre said.

"That's what it's all about and that's what we're going to try to do."

They have just over a week before the non-waiver trade deadline to make improvements via the trade route. With Chad Billingsley needing seven tries to finally earn his 10th victory on Wednesday and Jason Schmidt still early in his comeback attempt, the starting rotation is one area that might need fortification.

General Manager Ned Colletti, asked whether he's looking for starting pitching, said he was looking "a little bit." Asked whether Toronto's Roy Halladay was his target, Colletti replied, "I wouldn't go too hard on that. . . . We know who they have interest in."

If that interest involves Clayton Kershaw, he shouldn't bite, and he probably won't.

The Dodgers are flawed, but their strengths also are many. They have resilience, Ramirez, and the guts and guile to have won 19 of 28 one-run games this season.

Another starter might help. Another bullpen arm too. But Torre likes what he has now, as well he should.

"You know what I find interesting about the flaws is that we don't let them consume us," he said. "If we do something wrong, like we let a ball drop in right-center the other night, we don't look at it. We just move on.

"It's an imperfect game. It's loaded with negative statistics. Certainly it's tough to play the perfect game."

Colletti agreed that the ability to get past mistakes and not dwell on them is one of the Dodgers' greatest assets.

"I think this is one of the most cohesive teams I've ever been around," he said. "They play hard every day. They've been tested by adversity -- start with Manny -- and Hiroki [Kuroda] being out all that time, and a few other things here and there.

"They have short memories and big hearts and they play as hard as they can every day."

And sometimes they produce magical moments that make so much seem possible. "It's crazy. I can't believe it," Ramirez said of being the hero on his bobblehead night, "but I'm just happy to have it."

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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