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Dodgers quiet in Manny's return home

Dodgers quiet in Manny's return home

LOS ANGELES -- At 3:40 p.m. PT on Thursday afternoon, a good 3 1/2 hours before game time, the Dodgers clubhouse was conspicuously empty.

At this time on most days, the room is busy with activity. Mark Loretta sits in front of his locker working on a crossword puzzle. Some players quietly dress, others joke around.

But on Thursday, the day of Manny Ramirez's first home game since returning from a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy, that clubhouse was bare.

Could it be that they were all systematically avoiding the Manny media frenzy?

The missing early excitement, aside from Ramirez's pregame media session, seemed to forebode the lack of fireworks from the Dodgers' offense against the Astros.

The Dodgers fell to Houston, 3-0, in the club's first game since the All-Star break. It was the fifth time this year the Dodgers were shut out.

"Not really," manager Joe Torre said when asked if the game was an anticlimactic end to all of the Ramirez hype. "When you get so involved in the baseball stuff itself, you realize we're going home and that it's true he hasn't played here yet and we were all looking forward to it."

Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez showed why he entered the game No. 8 in the National League with a 2.96 ERA. His pitches moved and danced around the plate, eluding Dodgers bats for six strikeouts.

And he displayed a knack for wiggling out of jams when the Dodgers threatened to get on the board.

Rodriguez got Andre Ethier to ground into a double play with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning, and he escaped a one-out, runners-on-first-and-second dilemma in the fourth.

Rodriguez even struck out Ramirez twice, once in the fourth and again in the sixth.

"He pitched a great game and you've got to give him credit," Ramirez said.

Randy Wolf cruised through the first 4 2/3 innings, but one errant pitch led directly to a head-scratching home run.

Astros catcher Humberto Quintero, a player known more for his glove than his bat, smashed the first pitch of his second at-bat over the center-field fence for a home run and a 1-0 Houston lead. The homer was Quintero's first of the season and just the sixth of his career.

The wheels eventually came off for Wolf in the top of the seventh when the Astros opened the inning with three consecutive singles and went on to score two more runs to increase their lead to 3-0.

"Wolfy pitched a good game," Torre said. "Had one inning there in the seventh inning where he gave up three straight hits -- aside from that, he was in command the whole time."

But after the game, all the talk predictably centered on Ramirez's return to Dodger Stadium. Back in the previously empty clubhouse, a four-person-deep crowd of media engulfed Ramirez with questions.

"Not really, I was just playing the game like I always do," he said when asked if he was tight at the beginning.

His answers were short and devoid of much depth as Ramirez again and again opted for the same simple three-word response to questions on how he felt.

"I feel great."

David Ely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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