Ramirez Homer Delights Los Angeles

It resembled a wedding in that there was something old (Kent), something new (Blake), something borrowed (Ramirez) and there was Blue (nearly 55,000 of them) everywhere as Hiroki Kuroda righted himself and the club in a 4-2 win over the Diamondbacks, cutting their lead over Los Angeles to two games.

The large crowd went wild when Ramirez slugged his first Dodgers home run with Juan Pierre on base, calling for, and reveiving a brief curtain call. That it was the first inning, not the ninth, concerned them not a whit.

Casey Blake smacked his first homer and Jeff Kent added a run batted in during the important victory.

Hiroki Kuroda, he of the earned run average since the All-Star game (20 runs in 18.1 innings) resembling the national debt, allowed only four hits and a single earned run, struck out six and didn't allow a walk while recording his sixth win. It was his first win since July 7.

"Manny's unbelievable. But to see him have an impact as quick as he's had it, it's really amazing," Blake said, sounding more like a devoted fan than a teammate. after the All-Star game "I don't care who you are. You've still got to have some nervousness at the plate. And for him to be able to relax and hit that ball out, that was big for us. I've never really played with a player quite that caliber."

Ramirez's home run, which prompted a dugout celebration as wild as the one in the stands, was retrieved by an usher, costing the Dodgers 16 tickets to future games, and was later presented to the slugger by owner Frank McCourt.

The whole thing was so touching, Ramirez, with his trademark dreadlocks still intact, said he wanted to play out the rest of his career with the Dodgers. Realizing that his salary hovers around the $20 million mark, McCourt's feelings on that went unrecorded.

"I like that they've got my back and I've got their back," Ramirez said. "I'm just trying to fit in with these guys, relax and try to do my job. We've still got a long way to go."

Even some of the Arizona players were impressed.

"You put him in any lineup and Manny is the difference-maker," second baseman Orlando Hudson said. "I don't care what lineup he's in. He's going to be the difference."

Pierre bunted safely down the third base line and two outs later, Ramirez launched a 428-foot shot oveer the left field wall; his 64th first inning homer and his 511th career blast, tying Mel Ott for 22nd place on the charts and moving to within one homer of Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews, Hall of Famers all.

Blake added his first Dodgers home run in the second, a shot that wasn't rewarded the same hoopla that Ramirez's received, but one that was just as appreciated.

"It was big," Blake said. "It's not like it was really weighing on my mind but when you get that first home run out of the way, you start relaxing."

Kuroda had somehow "lost" his curve ball over the break and, with the help of pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, had been working feverishly to find it.

Apparently it wasn't far, perhaps under his extra glove in the corner of his locker or something, but Kuroda did finally locate it and it seemed in perfect condition when the game started.

The right-hander served up a home run to Miguel Montero in the third inning, then set down 17 of the next 18 batters before Jeff Kent made an error in the eighth.

"After those bad outings I had, I felt like I wasn't contributing at all and was a burden on the team," Kuroda said through a translator. "Catcher Russell Martin researched Arizona's lineup, and I just threw what he asked me to throw."

Ramirez singled to lead off the sixth and when James Loney rapped the first of his two singles, Manny hustled (yes, you read that right) to third base and later scored on Kent's single to boost the Dodgers' margin to 4-1.

In the eighth, Montero was safe on Kent's error and Jamie D'Antona singled. Hong-Chih Kuo came in to fan Stephen Drew and get Hudson on a fielder's choice to end the inning.

Kuo issued a walk and allowed an RBI single in the ninth but the old reliable, Chan Ho Park, got the final out for his second save in as many attempts, giving Jonathan Broxton, who is 5-for-5 in saves since replacing Takashi Saito, and weary arm a game off.

Catcher Russell Martin summed things up for the fans and the team.

"It's Manny. All Manny," said, still smiling after the game. "He's just fun to have around. He's energetic and outspoken. He wants to have fun. After the home run, I told him to go out for the curtain call. With one swing of his bat he can lift a team. It's what he does. I feel like we just hit the lottery with him in the lineup.

A Dodgers win in the final game of the series today would pull them back to a single win deficit.

"Going in you want more than that, but when you lose the first two games it would be great," Torre said. "Again, we'd still be a game behind, but it certainly would be huge for us at this point in time, especially at home losing the first two games."

The scenario of Johnson getting the call in such an important game would have seemed impossible when the season opened. The veteran Jason Johnson, who signed as a free agent just before spring training, didn't make the cut and flew to Las Vegas when the club flew back to Los Angeles.

Johnson (1-0, 1.38 ERA) threw six scoreless inning in a win over the Giants in his first Dodgers start. It was his first Major League victory in two years, and win or lose, this could be his last start in a while with Brad Penny possibly returning from the disabled list next weekend.

The Manny-led Dodgers will face LHP Doug Davis (4-5, 3.86 ERA) who is coming off his best outing of the year in which he took a perfect game into the seventh inning, but eventually allowed a base hit. Davis is 2-2 with a 1.40 ERA in his career at Dodger Stadium.

 Score by innings
Arizona         001 000 001-2
Los Angeles     210 001 00x-4

 Los Angeles    ab r  h  bi  ave
Pierre cf       4  1  1  0  .281
 Jones cf       0  0  0  0  .161
Kemp rf         4  0  0  0  .291
Martin c        4  0  1  0  .296
Ramirez lf      4  2  2  2  .500
Loney 1b        4  0  2  0  .299
Kent 2b         4  0  2  1  .254
 Ozuna r-3b     0  0  0  0  .271
Blake 3b        4  1  2  1  .345
Berroa ss       3  0  1  0  .208
Kuroda p        1  0  0  0  .059
 Kuo p          0  0  0  0  .333
 Park p         0  0  0  0  .000
  Totals       32 4 11 4
  Arizona      33 2  5 2

 Error- Kent (9). 2b hits- Blake (4).
HR- Ramirez (1), Blake (1). RBI- Ramirez
2 (2), Blake (1), Kent (45). S- Kuroda.
LOB- Los Angeles 7. Arizona 5.

 Los Angeles    in  h  r-er bb so  era
Kuroda (6-8)    7.1  4  1-1  0  6  4.21
Kuo             1.1  1  1-1  1  2  1.89
Park (sv 2)     0.1  0  0-0  0  0  2.66
 T- 2:35 Att- 54,544.
Raffy Ready in September?
Shortstop Rafael Furcal, out since May 6 and only one month after back surgery, says he feels much better and that his back doesn't bother him anymore. He has been taking physical therapy but won't begin actual baseball activity for two weeks.

He said he was hopeful of returning when rosters expand Sept. 1, if not sooner. "I don't want to come back and feel anything after I play," Furcal said. "I want to get everything to feel all right, 100 percent. Back surgery is a bad thing and I don't want to rush."

The Dodgers were 18-14 in games started by Furcal and are 36-41 without him.

Torre said. "For us to count on him would be wrong. But I've gotten the message, don't discount him coming back."

Dodger Blue Forever
Manny Ramirez has fallen in love with the left coast. "I want to stay here," Ramirez said. "I feel at home already. The weather is nice, the stadium is beautiful.

"At the end of the season, we'll find out if the Dodgers want me to finish my career here. We're going to sit down and talk about the situation."

Ramirez will be eligible to leave after this season having given up the final two option years of his contract at $20 million a pop in return for approving the trade from the Red Sox.

The Dodgers willingness to pay anybody $20 million or more seems out of the question with the dicey ($18 million) contract given to Andruw Jones.

But Ramirez said, "I've already made $160 million," he said. "I like it here. I'm looking for peace. I want to stay here. At the end of the season, if the Dodgers want me to end my career here, we'll sit down and talk. Time will tell."

Torre, coming from New York to Los Angeles, said he knows what Ramirez means. "It's hard for him to know that after one game, but I left New York and the first day at Spring Training, I loved it with the Dodgers.

"It's much different than he's used to. Maybe he'll enjoy what he's doing. I've enjoyed it here."

And Ramirez flashed his sense of humor, too. He said he did hustle on a ball to the left-center gap by Chris Burke that went for a triple in the first game of the series.

"What do you think I am, Juan Pierre?" he said. "I'm not that fast. I'm 5.3 to first base, remember?"

Dodger Blue Notes
Ramirez's homer was his first against the Diamondbacks, leaving Colorado as the only team he has never hit one against in American League or interleague play. The Dodgers have six games left with the Rockies. ...Jeff Kent was moved to sixth in the batting order, the lowest spot in the order for Kent this season. Torre said it was because Arizona threw a right-handed pitcher. ...Brad Penny made a rehab assignment with Las Vegas in Oklahoma City on Saturday. Penny threw 55 pitches -- 44 strikes -- and reached 98 mph. He threw four innings and allowed two earned runs on six hits. He struck out four and walked one. Penny is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start for the Dodgers on Friday at San Francisco. ...Scott Proctor threw two-thirds of an inning for Inland Empire at High Desert in a rehab assignment. He allowed three hits, three runs - one of which was earned - and struck out one.

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