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Though hitless, Manny injects spark into LA

Though hitless, Manny sparks LA

SAN DIEGO -- Rafael Furcal, back in the leadoff spot despite sporting the lowest on-base percentage in the lineup, had four hits Friday. Russell Martin, with one RBI over the previous five weeks, had one in each of his first two at-bats, and the team that struggled to score five runs in its past three games rolled up a five-spot in the first inning.

So, what does it mean to have Manny Ramirez back in the lineup?

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Manny Ramirez

"He completes our team," Martin said after the Dodgers beat the Padres, 6-3, in Ramirez's return from a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's Drug Policy.

And that's with a rusty Ramirez going 0-for-3 with a walk, not hitting the ball to an outfielder and leaving after a sixth-inning popup.

With a media turnout more suited to a postseason event and enough Dodgers fans driving south to PETCO Park to make it seem like a home game, Los Angeles spotted winning pitcher Hiroki Kuroda a five-run lead before he took the mound, and the crowd went wild.

"It felt like more Dodgers fans than Padres fans," Martin said.

The first inning started with Furcal's first hit on an eight-pitch at-bat. He also grounded out in the second, doubled in the fourth, singled through the middle and stole a base in the sixth, and then bunted for a single in the ninth. Furcal was reinstalled as the leadoff hitter after Ramirez bumped Juan Pierre to the bench, as manager Joe Torre reconstructing the top of the order to the way it was before Ramirez was suspended.

"I said, 'Don't count what Furcal does 'till I get here,'" Ramirez said with a laugh. "I get here, and he gets four hits. See what I mean?"

Furcal, who won Wednesday's game with a pinch-single in the eighth inning, reacted in mock anger when Ramirez took credit for his big game, then praised his good friend.

"Manny brings a lot of confidence and makes everybody happy he came back," Furcal said. "He's a leader. I've been waiting for this moment. Now I feel better at the plate, a little more patient."

The inning was capped by Matt Kemp's two-run double and included two Padres errors, RBIs from Martin, Andre Ethier and James Loney, and a pair of walks -- one of them to Ramirez on a 3-2 pitch. Ramirez then triggered the two-error play with a legitimate slide into second base.

"Obviously, he brings a little something to the table," Casey Blake said. "He seemed to spark the team a little bit. Five runs in the first inning -- we haven't seen five runs on the scoreboard in a long time."

It's been even longer since the Dodgers played a July game on the road with this much electricity in the air.

"I think we were a little bit more excited than usual," Kemp said. "The fans were crazy, and it really felt like a playoff atmosphere. All the fans drove down to San Diego, and it felt like we were playing at home."

Martin -- who, like Furcal, has struggled offensively all season -- said he's made a hitting adjustment.

"I'm feeling more comfortable after opening up my stance," Martin said. "I'm picking up the ball quicker. I know I can produce offensively. It's just a matter of time."

Ramirez left with the Dodgers ahead, 6-1, but then Kuroda ran out of gas and allowed a two-run double to Adrian Gonzalez in the bottom of the sixth inning. Guillermo Mota took over and continued his lights-out relief with another 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Mota has now allowed one earned run over his past 21 2/3 innings.

Ramon Troncoso followed and issued a two-out walk in the eighth, leading Torre to bring on Brent Leach to face Gonzalez.

Gonzalez sent a long fly to left, where Juan Pierre -- Ramirez's productive replacement in the lineup for 50 games, but now reduced back to a defensive replacement -- chased the ball down and pinned it against the electronic message board.

Jonathan Broxton pitched a perfect ninth with two strikeouts and multiple triple-digit radar readings, maxing out at a remarkable 103 mph. With his 12th straight save, Broxton now has 20 in total. He also has 64 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings.

For Kuroda, it was his third win this season and second against the Padres. Four of his 12 career wins have come against San Diego.

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

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