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Manny's pinch-hit jack boosts Dodgers

Manny's pinch-hit jack boosts Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- He saved the day and then, just like Batman, Manny Ramirez was gone.

Ramirez slugged a two-run pinch-homer off a hanging Sergio Romo slider in the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 win over the Giants. He thrust his fist in the air rounding first base, acknowledged Dodgers fans with a curtain call, then vanished.

When Jonathan Broxton closed it out with a 1-2-3 ninth for his first save of the year, there was no Manny in the congratulatory handshake line on the field and he was long gone by the time reporters entered the clubhouse.

In the wake of Spring Training comments that this will be his last season in Los Angeles, Ramirez no longer speaks with reporters and has withdrawn from the gregarious clubhouse entertainer that arrived from Boston. Teammates won't discuss his changed personality, but they don't mind talking about his continued presence in the lineup.

"Just watching that at-bat brings back memories of how he used to kill us in Baltimore and Seattle -- same old Manny," said Dodgers reliever George Sherrill. "He knows each and every pitcher and what they throw to start a count and finish you off. He looks for certain pitches from certain pitchers. He knows Romo has a nasty slider. But Romo dropped down on that one and it just sort of hung."

And Ramirez just sort of launched it into the left-field pavilion for his 548th career home run, tying Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt for 14th on the all-time list (Reggie Jackson is next at 563). It was Ramirez's second homer of the season and the second pinch-homer of his career. He's batting .375.

Ramirez didn't start for the second consecutive game because of a tight right calf muscle and is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday, when the Dodgers open a nine-game trip in Cincinnati after going 4-2 on the first homestand of the year by taking series from Arizona and San Francisco.

While Ramirez was the hero, starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw made it all possible. Kershaw restored order after Charlie Haeger's short start Saturday by dueling Barry Zito on scoreless terms until Juan Uribe's one-out homer in the seventh inning on a 3-2 changeup, when Kershaw shook off catcher Russell Martin's sign for a fastball.

"I shook to it; it's my decision," said Kershaw. "He put a fastball down. I shook Russ probably three times all game. For some reason I wanted to throw a changeup and that was the result."

Kershaw had a 12-pitch at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning and was allowed to start the eighth inning, only to walk Eugenio Velez leading off. Manager Joe Torre started pushing the buttons and used relievers Jeff Weaver, Sherrill and winner Ramon Troncoso after Kershaw in the eighth, and the Dodgers escaped a bases-loaded jam.

"Give Kershaw all the credit in the world for keeping the game where it was so Manny could come up and make a difference," said Torre.

Kershaw allowed four hits with nine strikeouts and four walks, making 114 pitches.

"I was getting ahead of hitters, my fastball command was better than it has been and overall just a better day," said Kershaw, who allowed five walks in 5 1/3 innings his previous start.

"He was effectively wild. That's what they call it, right?" asked Giants catcher Bengie Molina. "You don't know sometimes where it's going and then when he has to make a pitch, he paints the black."

Torre had to do some managing in the winning rally, too. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, he pinch-hit for Jamey Carroll by sending left-handed hitter Garret Anderson to bat against the left-handed Zito, because Anderson had a .328 average lifetime against Zito.

To this point, the only real noise made by the crowd of 50,433 was to acknowledge the Lakers playoff win and Vin Scully's 60th anniversary at the microphone.

But when Ramirez came out to the on-deck circle, the stadium awoke. Anderson walked on a 3-2 pitch, Blake DeWitt pinch-ran and Romo was brought in to face Ramirez, Giants manager Bruce Bochy knowing that his right-hander had struck out Ramirez both previous times they met.

Apparently looking for the slider, Ramirez took a fastball for a ball, took a slider for a strike, took a fastball for a strike and got the 1-2 hanging slider he was looking for on the fourth pitch. This homer might have lacked the drama of Ramirez's pinch-slam last year on his bobblehead night, but it saved Torre from sending pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to run for Ramirez had he only reached base.

"It's nice to have weapons like Anderson and Manny," said Torre. "It gives me and this ballclub the opportunity to come back in games. I always compare to sitting on the other side of the field. I would not like to see Anderson and Manny coming off the bench in a close game."

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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