Rod Barajas gets noticed in Dodger blue
The lifelong Dodgers fan goes 3-for-5 with a three-run home run against the Brewers
MILWAUKEE -- Rod Barajas, a lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers fan who grew up in Norwalk, Calif., said that it wasn't until about the sixth inning that he noticed the older man in the bright orange shirt sitting in the second row next to the visiting dugout at Miller Park. It was none other than Tommy Lasorda, the team's Hall of Fame manager.
"He was another one of those guys I loved growing up," said Barajas, the veteran catcher whom the Dodgers claimed off waivers on Sunday from the New York Mets and made his Dodgers debut in Tuesday night's 5-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers before 39,055. "So everything about [seeing him there] was pretty cool."
It wasn't long after that when Lasorda, along with everyone else in the ballpark, noticed Barajas. With two outs in the top of that sixth inning, Barajas tore into a pitch Milwaukee's Dave Bush left over the middle of the plate and dropped it into the Brewers' bullpen before left-center field, a three-run homer that turned a one-run deficit into a two-run lead that this time the Dodgers wouldn't relinquish.
For Barajas, whose reputation is as a defensive specialist who carries a bat only because the rules require him too, it was the perfect conclusion to an evening in which he went 3-for-4 with two doubles, that game-winning three-run blast and even went seven pitches before striking out in his final at-bat in the eighth.
"That was nice," Barajas said. "I tried not to do too much. I was excited and nervous, with a little bit of extra energy. But I think once I got that first base hit, doing something I had probably never done in my career, which was hit a ball down the [right-field] line, I kind of got the nervousness out.
"Being an L.A. boy and cheering for this team, I was nervous coming in here. It was neat knowing all my friends and family were watching. They had been calling for a while, saying they would love to have me here. But I was afraid if I didn't do well, I would be getting some bad text messages."
Perhaps even more important than what Barajas did at the plate was what he did behind it. Catching Ted Lilly (8-8) for the first time on an evening when Lilly wasn't nearly as effective as he had been in his first four starts for the Dodgers but managed to improvise his way through 6⅓ innings, Barajas provided a calming influence on the veteran left-hander.
"He did a good job defensively and obviously on the other end with some big hits," Lilly said. "I got away with quite a few pitches, and he was good because he stayed on me. I was getting frustrated with not being able to get my fastball in, but he worked well with me."
The Dodgers' acquisition of Barajas was sort of an afterthought when it happened, a move that wouldn't have been made if Russell Martin weren't out for the season with a hip injury. Until Sunday, that left the catching duties to the offensively challenged likes of Brad Ausmus and A.J. Ellis, who had combined for no home runs and 12 RBIs this season.
In fact, the Barajas move was so lightly regarded that Vin Scully, the team's Hall of Fame broadcaster, facetiously referred to it while announcing on Sunday morning that he would return for a 62nd season at the microphone in 2011.
"Of course, now that they have Rod Barajas, that was the clincher," said Scully, who didn't mention any other player by name during his brief session with the media.
For his part, Barajas was just thrilled that Scully, to whom he has been listening to all his life, had mentioned him by name.
"I did [hear it], and I loved it," he said. "He has had a big impact on baseball for me. When he calls a Dodgers game, you can turn the TV off and just listen to his voice. I hear other players around the league talking about their broadcasters, but I tell them there is nobody who compares with Vin Scully."
Barajas now has 13 home runs for the season, which is eight more than Martin hit before suffering his season-ending injury.
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Since his long-awaited return from the disabled list, Manny Ramirez has hardly been worth the wait. After going 1-for-6 with four strikeouts on his minor league rehabilitation assignment -- and that was against Single-A pitching -- Ramirez is hitless in seven at-bats, with three strikeouts, since being activated from the disabled list on Saturday. This as news reports swirl that he will be claimed off waivers by at least one team, the Chicago White Sox, sometime in the next few days.
Ramirez was double-switched out of the game after grounding out to shortstop to end the top of the seventh.
"He looks out of rhythm, timing-wise," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "He is a little long with his swing. It's level. He isn't upper-cutting, and he isn't trying to help it along. But he is just a little behind it right now. He will start tomorrow, then get a day off on Thursday. Hopefully, by the time we get to Denver [on Friday], he will get it back. Hopefully, tomorrow he will get it going."
By the Numbers
3 -- consecutive games in which Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp has homered after hitting one in his previous 17 games. Kemp hit a monstrous two-run shot off Dave Bush in the second inning, a ball that caromed off an advertisement at the bottom of the main scoreboard, about 50 feet above the 400-foot sign in straightaway center, to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. Kemp also has a four-game hitting streak, during which he is 4-for-14.
With the Dodgers leading 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Casey McGehee -- who has 20 home runs -- came to the plate as the potential tying run after a one-out double by Prince Fielder. McGehee hit a sizzling line drive right at Dodgers third baseman Ronnie Belliard, a utility infielder who was playing only because he came in hitting .462 (6-for-13) in his career against Bush. Belliard snared it just in front of his face, then quickly fired to second, where Ryan Theriot just got the bag with his foot as he ran across to double off Fielder, around whose sizable body Belliard had to make a perfect throw.
"It wasn't coming at me that fast," Belliard said. "I don't think he really got it. I just wanted to get it to second base, and thank God I made a perfect throw."
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"At this point, I'm still not convinced we're out of it. There are still plenty of games, and crazier things have happened. I would like to be optimistic we can do something here with this last month." -- Lilly, who has now won each of his first five starts with the Dodgers, posting a 1.84 ERA in the process, since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs on July 31.
Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (8-11, 3.48) has a 7.36 ERA in two career appearances against the Brewers, but that is due mostly to his giving up three runs in 1⅓ innings in his only career relief appearance on July 12, 2009, at Miller Park, a day when Kuroda was available out of the bullpen because it was the final game before the All-Star break. Brewers left-hander Randy Wolf (10-9, 4.67) will be pitching against his former team for the first time since the Dodgers declined last winter to offer him salary arbitration and allowed him to become a free agent, whereupon he eventually signed with the Brewers.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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