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Rafael Furcal has a big night against Nationals

Shortstop is coming on strong with four hits, including the tiebreaking homer, as Dodgers come close to clinching a playoff berth.


WASHINGTON — On the night the Dodgers moved to within a victory of securing a spot in the postseason by claiming a 7-6 victory over the Washington Nationals, their $25-million left fielder turned himself into the highest-paid press officer in baseball history.

Still wearing his uniform pants, a sweaty Manny Ramirez put his arm around the first reporter he saw and said, "You're going to talk to Raffy, right? Go talk to Raffy."

But Rafael Furcal, who was four for five and hit a solo home run to break a 6-6 stalemate in the eighth inning, wasn't at his locker.

"He's in the shower," Ramirez said. "He'll be back."

Matt Kemp drove in his 100th run of the season on a three-run home run in the first inning and Andre Ethier saved the game in the bottom of the eighth by throwing out Willie Harris at the plate, but the players in the clubhouse made it clear that the game belonged to Furcal, who for most of the season has looked like a player past his prime.

Reporters weren't the only ones to greet the affable shortstop when he returned to his dressing stall.

Brad Ausmus dropped by to bump fists with him.

Guillermo Mota walked by and said out loud in English, "It's not how you start . . . "

Furcal completed the phrase in Spanish: "It's how you finish."

Furcal is finishing strong.

He scored two runs and drove in four more Thursday to reduce the Dodgers' magic number to secure a wild-card berth to one, meaning that if the Dodgers win today or if the Atlanta Braves lose, they'll be in the playoffs for the third time in four years.

The Dodgers' magic number to eliminate the second-place Colorado Rockies from contention for the National League West crown is down to four.

Furcal's performance on this night didn't come out of nowhere.

Furcal has hit safely in 16 of his last 17 games, batting .375 and scoring 20 runs over that span. His season average is up to .268.

"Right in time for the playoffs," his dreadlocked personal press officer said.

Furcal's last big moment came in Colorado on Aug. 27, when he drove in the deciding run in a victory that extended the Dodgers' lead over the Rockies to four games.

But Furcal couldn't celebrate that day, as his wife and children had to evacuate from their home in the La Canada Flintridge area because of wildfires.

"I can enjoy this one a little more," Furcal said.

When Furcal once again recounted how many sleepless nights he has had this season, he was asked if he thought he would sleep well that night.

He smiled and shrugged, as if to say that he didn't know.

"I'm excited," he said.

Furcal's day at the plate made up for another poor night of pitching -- the Dodgers blew a 3-0 lead in a loss the previous night -- as Vicente Padilla failed to do much with a 4-0 lead that the offense gave him after four batters.

Padilla gave up three runs in the second inning and another in the fourth. An errant throw by second baseman Ronnie Belliard contributed to two runs charged to Ronald Belisario that allowed the Nationals to tie the score, 6-6, in the sixth inning.

Furcal's bat and Ethier's arm made that all moot.

When reporters left Furcal's locker, Ramirez took their place.

Holding up his cellphone to Furcal's face, Ramirez started asking Furcal questions.

"What do you think about the game you played?"

No answer.

"You got four hits. What do you think?"

No answer.

"You got a home run. What do you think?"

Furcal looked up, smiled and said something in Spanish that can't be printed in a family newspaper.

Ramirez exploded laughing. Furcal also laughed.

"I'm going to put it on YouTube," Ramirez said.


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