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HELENE ELLIOTT

Joe Torre keeps tension level low for Dodgers

Despite recent struggles by his team, the Dodgers' manager still likes what he sees since the team has responded well when it has needed to.

September 05, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

Every team has a personality, a character formed by its response to bad times and good times.

The Dodgers last season had two personalities: the offensively challenged pre-Manny Ramirez team and the buoyant bunch that went on to make the playoffs and upset the Chicago Cubs in the first round.

This season, Manager Joe Torre wasn't sure what he'd get.

"They seemed to be a much more cohesive group early on. They had a lot of confidence in what they did," he said. "I think there were still a lot of things they had to find out about themselves."

And some things he had to learn about his players.

"The one thing I found out about them," he said, "is every time they've been tested they've done all right."

That's a key lesson, one that shouldn't be obscured by Clayton Kershaw's being hurt by another pitiful dose of run support in what became a 2-0 loss to the Padres on Friday at hot, sticky Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers have come through the dog days of summer with a lead of 4 1/2 games over the second-place Rockies and 5 1/2 games over the third-place Giants in the NL West, even though they've looked inept some nights.

Friday was one of them. They had only two hits against Padres starter Wade LeBlanc, who brought an 8.53 earned-run average to his fourth major league start this season. Manny Ramirez was 0 for 3, drawing boos when he took a called third strike to lead off the eighth inning.

They matched a season high by going 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position, leaving a runner at second in the seventh and one at third in the eighth.

"We didn't play like we should have played," said Matt Kemp, who was one for four. "We didn't get it done."

There's an understatement.

But throughout this season they have been resilient when they had to be, coming from behind to win 34 times. Torre is counting on that part of their personality to prevail as the month winds down and home-field advantage in the playoffs becomes their focus.

The schedule works in their favor. Though they have six games left against the Giants and three against Colorado, five of their eight remaining series will be against teams that are below .500. That includes three games against the major league-worst Washington Nationals and seven against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Dodgers are good enough to hold on and win an inconsistent division, though they'll have to be better than "all right" a month from now when the playoffs start.

That's when they'll need the resolve they showed in Colorado last week after they lost the series opener and their lead over the Rockies was reduced to two games.

"We went into Colorado and we came out four games ahead," Torre said. "Going into San Francisco and winning the first two games of that series [Aug. 10-12]. Go into Philadelphia, and going to Chicago, going places that you know you're going to play good teams, and we held up.

"If we weren't going to win, it wasn't because we were intimidated by anything, so that made me feel good. You didn't have to do any selling job to these guys as far as telling them how good they were.

"I think they're a pretty good group as far as handling the pressure, and postseason helped last year because they went into Chicago in postseason last year and did something they weren't supposed to do."

His job, he said, is to "control the tension. It's like being intense without being tense. It's a very fine line. But to me the pressure of the game is what it is. You add tension to it and then it becomes tougher to deal with."

There is no real pressure these last few weeks.

"Pressure, I can't eliminate. It is what it is," he said. "But I try to add perspective to the other parts of the game and just let them play it."

Or not play. He has already started resting some of his regulars: Second baseman Orlando Hudson sat in favor of Ronnie Belliard for the second straight game, and Russell Martin got into Friday's game only after he hit for Ramon Troncoso in the seventh and stayed in to catch.

He's not saying it's OK to play. 500 the rest of the way, even though that might still get them comfortably in.

"You lose a couple of games and now you have to play better than .500. I never liked to get caught in that situation," he said.

"I really don't buy it. You go out and try to win every game. If we're going to win the division we want to do it as soon as possible."

Friday's uphill trudge on a hot, humid night didn't help get them there any sooner.

"We're all right," Kemp said, echoing Torre's sentiment. "We'll come back tomorrow and have a better game."

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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