Manny Ramirez's presence helps
He doesn't do much in his return, but Dodgers smack four homers in victory
LOS ANGELES -- To the naked eye, Manny Ramirez's return to the Los Angeles Dodgers' starting lineup was hardly worth the wait. He went hitless in three at-bats, striking out in two of them. He didn't have a ball hit to him in left field, other than a single through the left side of the infield that he simply had to scoop up and throw back to the infield. And the crowd reaction seemed to suggest a collective indifference.
But getting Ramirez back wasn't just about Ramirez. In fact, in the case of Saturday night, when the Dodgers rolled to an 8-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds before 49,435 at Dodger Stadium, it wasn't about Ramirez at all.
The Dodgers, who had scored two runs or fewer in 20 of the 33 games they had played during Ramirez's latest stint on the disabled list and had hit a grand total of one home run in their previous eight games, erupted for four homers in the first three innings off one of the National League's best starting pitchers in Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto.
Ryan Theriot and Andre Ethier hit back-to-back solo shots with two outs in the second, and Jay Gibbons and Matt Kemp hit back-to-back solo shots to begin the third, giving the Dodgers an early 5-0 lead on Cueto, who was pitching for the first time since Aug. 10 after serving a suspension for his role in that night's bench-clearing brawl with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Whether Ramirez's presence had anything to do with this sudden breakout by the previously punchless Dodgers depends on whom you ask.
"I really think so," Gibbons said. "It's another dominant hitter that the pitcher has to think about. Just that alone can help even if he didn't get any hits. You saw what happened. I don't know if that was the reason, but we came out with a lot of confidence tonight."
Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly didn't dispute that Ramirez might have had an impact, but he didn't exactly confirm it, either.
"Whatever happened tonight was good, though," he said. "That is all that really matters. I don't know if you can even put a finger on it."
In between his two most recent DL stints, Ramirez had a total of four major league plate appearances on July 15-16. So it stood to reason he would be a tad rusty.
"He looked all right," Mattingly said. "I don't know how he felt. I talked to him before the game, but he didn't really tell me a lot, so it was hard to get a good read. He hadn't played in a long time. It's hard to go that long without an at-bat, I don't care who you are."
Ramirez was lifted after the fifth inning, a point when the Dodgers had a 7-1 lead and manager Joe Torre wanted to insert Reed Johnson in left for defensive purposes. Torre plans to rest Ramirez on Sunday. The Dodgers are off Monday, but Torre said Ramirez will start in left field Tuesday night at Milwaukee.
Scene and heard
A Dodgers official confirmed Vin Scully, the team's legendary broadcaster, plans to meet with reporters before Sunday's game.
It isn't clear exactly what Scully plans to say about his future plans, which have been the subject of widespread speculation all season. But it probably is worth mentioning that people rarely meet with reporters to announce that nothing is changing.
Scully is in his 61st season in the booth for the Dodgers and is 82 years old. Several years ago, he cut his schedule back to home games and games in NL West cities.
By the numbers
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87 -- consecutive innings by Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley without giving up a home run, by far the longest active streak in the majors. Billingsley was last taken deep on May 31, when Justin Upton, Chris Young and Chris Snyder of the Arizona Diamondbacks all homered off him in the first two innings of a game the Dodgers came back to win.
The second-longest current streak technically belongs to Joey Devine of the Oakland A's, but he hasn't pitched since 2008 because of injuries. Brandon Lyon of the Houston Astros went into Saturday third on the list at 56 consecutive innings without giving up a home run.
Billingsley, by the way, tweaked his right calf covering first base on a second-inning groundout by Reds catcher Ramon Hernandez. Although he said after the game it didn't affect his pitching at all, it did affect his running, which was why he was slow to get up the line on his own fourth-inning groundout on a ball Reds shortstop Paul Janish had to dive for behind the second-base bag, then struggled to pick up. If Billingsley had been able to run full speed, Janish would have had no chance to get him at first.
As he jogged gingerly off the field after that play, Billingsley received a smattering of boos from a crowd that had no way of knowing about his calf.
Billingsley (10-7) gave up three runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings, striking out seven and walking one.
Quote of the day
"It was a pretty good night considering I came to the park today not knowing if I was on the team. ... You just look at it the situation. I know having six outfielders isn't ideal. If they didn't want to keep me here, I don't think I would have been upset. It would have just been one of those things. That's just baseball. If you lose your job to Manny, you lose your job to Manny. But I'm glad I'm still here." -- Gibbons, who is primarily an outfielder but started at first base and went 2-for-3 with a home run and a walk and scored two runs.
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Gibbons, whose contract had been purchased from Triple-A Albuquerque on Aug. 8, thought he might be the player designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Ramirez. Instead, it was veteran infielder Juan Castro, leaving the Dodgers with six outfielders and Ronnie Belliard as the team's only reserve who is primarily an infielder.
The Dodgers and Reds play for the final time this season Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw (11-7, 3.03) leads the NL with a 1.60 ERA in his six daytime starts this season, and he has struck out 18 batters in 14 1/3 innings in his two career starts against the Reds. Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo (13-7, 3.87) will be attempting to win his 100th career game.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.