- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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DENVER -- For reasons no one can quite figure out, and from the time he put himself under an unofficial gag order about a week into spring training and suddenly stopped speaking to the media, this whole notion of Manny being Manny seems to have been lost somewhere along the way.
There has been no sign of the playful, gregarious personality, the guy who so famously united a once-divided clubhouse when he arrived two years ago; nor, for the most part, has there been much hint of the dangerous power hitter Manny Ramirez used to be.
But in the sixth inning Friday night, in the opener of a series that could prove critical in the National League West, Manny, however briefly, was once again Manny.
For the Dodgers, the timing couldn't have been better.
With deafening boos raining down on him from a hostile crowd, Ramirez jumped all over a changeup from Colorado's Jeff Francis and deposited it into the visiting bullpen in right-center field, erasing the final remnants of what had been a four-run deficit and putting the Dodgers ahead to stay. They held on for a 5-4 victory over the Rockies before 40,162 at Coors Field, moving to within a game of first place in the division.
The home run was Ramirez's third of the season and his first since April 18, a once-unthinkable drought of almost six weeks -- although that span includes a stint on the disabled list because of a strained right calf. The home run also moved Ramirez past Mike Schmidt into sole possession of 14th place on the all-time list with 549 for his career. And of those 549, this was the first one, in 44 at-bats and 55 plate appearances, that had ever come at Coors Field.
In keeping with his season-long habit, Ramirez not only didn't speak to reporters but left the clubhouse and presumably the ballpark before reporters even had the chance to ask him if he would make a rare exception.
The home run was Ramirez's only hit of the evening, leaving his average at .216 since he came off the disabled list May 8 -- almost 200 points less than the .415 he was hitting when he was shelved April 23. But while he no longer speaks to the media, his teammates say he is basically the same old Manny.
"He isn't struggling," said center fielder Matt Kemp, who also homered off Francis. "He just isn't getting any hits. But he is always in the cage, and he is one of the hardest-working guys on the team. I wish we all could never go into slumps or whatever y'all call it. Getting two hits a game is kind of impossible to do when you play this game."
Although the home runs haven't been there -- and you can surmise whatever you wish as to the reason why, up to and including last year's 50-game suspension -- the swing has been there pretty much all along, as evidenced by Ramirez's pre-DL performance.
"When he came back [from the suspension] last year, he tried to swing out of his shoes," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "But he made up his mind, and I talked to him this offseason, that he was going to straighten his swing out and come in this year and play baseball."
Torre did acknowledge that Ramirez has been more subdued.
"I don't think he is the same as when he first came on board," Torre said. "There is still a lot of joking around, and he is still pretty comfortable. But he isn't as animated as he was when he first got here. I think a big part of that was what happened last year. I think that was very tough for him.
"He certainly isn't sullen, and he isn't moping around. He is still upbeat. But I thought when he first came here, he might have been a little over the top."
Torre also conceded we probably have seen the last of the type of power show Ramirez brought to town over the final two months of the 2008 season, when he slammed 17 homers in 187 at-bats after the Dodgers acquired him from Boston.
"I see a good swing, to be honest," Torre said. "He has hit a lot of balls on the nose, but he just hasn't hit them in the air. I think he is going to hit a number of home runs. Will it be 30? No. But I do think he will hit around 20 homers. It's just a matter of getting into his comfort zone."
Actually, it could have been a key moment, but fortunately for the Dodgers, it wasn't.
With the Rockies already leading 3-0 in the fourth inning, Clint Barmes launched a ball on a high arc toward the gap in left-center. Ramirez and Kemp gave chase, but the ball disappeared into the front row of the bleachers, giving Barmes an apparent home run.
But Kemp immediately threw his hands in the air and started gesturing toward the stands, a clear indication he believed a fan had reached over the wall. Although Kemp had no shot of catching the ball, televised replays seemed to support his contention that the ball would have hit off the wall and stayed in play had the fan not interfered.
At Torre's request, all three of the base umpires went underneath the stands to review a video replay. (Disputed home runs are the only area in which umpires can use replay.) They emerged after three minutes and ruled that Barmes had hit a legitimate home run, making it 4-0.
Although the victory rendered the whole thing moot, Kemp was still in a state of disbelief after the game.
"I was right there," he said. "My eyes aren't that good, but I'm not blind. I couldn't have caught that ball because I was coming from a long way away. It was at least a double, but it wasn't a home run. I'm just glad we came back."
Lost in the shuffle
In his second major league start, rookie Carlos Monasterios was just good enough to pick up his second major league victory -- the previous one had come out of the bullpen. He went five innings, throwing 67 pitches, and two of the four runs he gave up were unearned because of a first-inning fielding error by Ronnie Belliard at first base.
Although Torre had given a strong indication before the game that knuckleballer Charlie Haeger will come off the disabled list in time to reclaim the fifth spot in the rotation the next time it comes up either Tuesday or Wednesday, Torre at least paid lip service after the game to the possibility that Monasterios had pitched well enough to warrant another shot.
"I don't think we have figured it out yet," Torre said. "But I certainly wouldn't be afraid to do that. He enhanced his chances if we were going to consider it."
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (5-2, 3.03) takes the mound on five days' rest after losing for the first time in almost a month Sunday against Detroit when he gave up three runs in the first inning but shut out the Tigers on three hits over the next five. He has struggled against the Rockies in his two-plus seasons in the majors, going 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in four starts. Right-hander Aaron Cook (1-3, 5.40), a former All-Star, has done such a number on Dodgers catcher Russell Martin (1-for-18) that Torre said Martin won't be in the starting lineup.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.