Manny's taters help Dodgers pad lead

Manny's taters help Dodgers pad lead

SAN DIEGO -- The Dodgers are taking the drama out of the NL West race, but Manny Ramirez is always worth watching.

He slugged a pair of two-run homers to the ridiculously deep right-center of PETCO Park, where few players have hit even one. His four RBIs powered the Dodgers to a 7-2 win over the Padres on Wednesday, extending their division lead to 3 1/2 games and trimming their magic number to clinch to 14.

The rundown of Ramirez's accomplishments since his July 31 acquisition is jaw-dropping -- .396 average, 14 homers and 40 RBIs in 38 games. Project that over a full season and it's 59.6 homers and 170.5 RBIs. The Dodgers, who have won 10 of their past 11, have gained 5 1/2 games in the standings since the deadline trade.

Ramirez has eight homers and 19 RBIs in his past 13 games and some opposing teams keep pitching to him, although he already has 14 intentional walks. Including his games with Boston, Ramirez is hitting .325 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs on the season.

Ramirez's production Wednesday night (along with a solo homer from James Loney and RBI hits from Blake DeWitt and Russell Martin) made a winner out of Derek Lowe (13-11), although Lowe saw only the first of the blasts in person. It was a Shawn Estes curveball and it went 435 feet, longest of the year in San Diego.

"The first one tonight, that felt the best," said Ramirez. "The second one, I thought he [center fielder Will Venable] was going to get it."

Lowe was in the clubhouse for Ramirez's second homer, off Dirk Hayhurst, having come out after being struck on the back of the right knee by a Kevin Kouzmanoff comebacker in the sixth inning, charged with only one run.

Lowe told manager Joe Torre his knee was a little stiff on the second warmup toss and that cost him a chance to see Ramirez's second homer.

"I had to wrestle the ball from him," Torre said.

Lowe said his removal was precautionary and he expected to make his next scheduled start Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

By then, Ramirez will probably have hit another dozen or so home runs. And that wouldn't surprise Lowe, who had the pleasure of watching Ramirez hit homers for him with Boston. From the stratospheric stats to the clubhouse clowning, Lowe has seen the Manny act before and he's not surprised it's playing to such rave reviews.

"The thing I said when we got him was, 'Don't go by what you've read, I know that for a fact,'" Lowe said. "I know the type of guy he is without the media there. Once he got out of that [Boston] arena, he'd be fine. For a superstar player, it's surprising to people to see how much of a kid he is. It's refreshing. He's relaxed a lot of people, taken the pressure off a lot of people here."

And then there's what happens between the lines.

"He just plays at a different level day in and day out," Lowe said. "Night in and night out, against all different pitchers, in a new league, it doesn't matter. No on, hits a ball out of center field here. He does it twice. It's one thing after another. I'm glad we got him. No matter where he'd go, he'd do this."

That he's done it with the Dodgers not only has Dodger Nation working up a frenzy for his re-signing, it has the clubhouse cautiously pondering how long this season might last. Torre tiptoed through questions about his postseason pitching rotation before the game and Lowe didn't look ahead, either.

"We're not there yet, but this year is so unique," Lowe said. "We've had so many injuries, there were so many players we used, the highs and lows, the eight-game losing streak and now we've won 10 of 11. All season, no matter who wins, they'll say we'll get swept in the first round because we're only so many over .500 and we don't have what it takes.

"That doesn't matter. Our team is so different than two months ago. We are a playoff team. We can go deep in the playoffs."

What role Brad Penny will play if that happens remains unclear. He was activated before the game after spending the better part of the second half on the disabled list with shoulder stiffness. He came on for the seventh inning and walked Venable, allowed a broken-bat single to Josh Bard and an infield single to Matt Antonelli.

Penny said his shoulder felt fine and the walk wasn't a surprise considering his layoff, but Torre lifted him with the bases loaded and no outs.

"The worst thing was the walk," said Torre.

On came Cory Wade, the unsung rookie workhorse, who put down the inning by allowing only one run to score on a sacrifice fly.

"He's been terrific, he really has," said Torre.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.