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Lasorda Steps Up to Plate, and It’s Christmas in July

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

Before I get to Tom Lasorda, the dream world he lives in, his belly, the beard he’s going to need to grow and the Angel-red garb he will be wearing, I have to admit, I almost gave up on the Choking Dogs.

You go on vacation, your family -- who stopped listening to you long ago -- now no longer talks to you, even though it’s probably time again for them to start asking for money.

You did what you could to inspire them to get through Nebraska and Iowa, even allowing them to spend as much time as they liked in a Super Wal-Mart and stay in a Holiday Inn one night, only to have them mutiny and quit before the return trip through Kansas.

Now it’s back to work, returning to the Dodgers clubhouse to find another sorry group of mopes down on their luck, many of them probably better suited to being grocery store baggers, and you wonder, what are the chances it will be any different?

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Are they going to quit too?

My job, of course, is to get the very best out of our local athletes, at times making a better hitter out of Shawn Green, a good three-point shooter out of The Tanker, a postseason team out of the Angels, an approachable person out of Garret Anderson, a sweetie out of Jeff Kent, a playoff team out of the Clippers and an ex-Laker out of Devean George.

But where do you begin with the Dodgers? Well, I set out to aggravate J.D. Drew, taking on the toughest challenge of all -- trying to get a rise out of an athlete with no pulse.

Then I broke a rule -- ordinarily I ignore the young players on the Dodgers roster because I have two daughters and I know how little they have to offer when I try to talk to them -- and spoke to Andre Ethier.

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I even began criticizing Grady Little, maybe the nicest guy to ever pull on a uniform, suggesting the manager with the talented players in Boston who averaged 94 wins a year might be clueless when it comes to working with a roster that’s sitting in last place in the National League West.

So what happens? Ethier responded immediately by hitting two home runs, and then another a couple days later.

Drew needed a little more coaxing, walking past me without so much as a word while I teased him a second consecutive day for being lifeless. Then the dead man hit a grand slam -- his first home run since June 1.

Little, meanwhile, began talking before Saturday’s game about the number of wins the team will need to make the playoffs, at a time when you’d expect to hear him do his Jim Mora “Playoffs?” imitation.

“I think it will take 86 to 88 wins,” Little said. “We can do that.”

Based on what?

“I have this belief,” he said.

I’d be more optimistic if he had better players, but the Dodgers have a two-game winning streak, which feels right now like a franchise record.

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And that brings me to Lasorda, who claimed to have stopped eating Wednesday, promising not to eat until the Dodgers won again. They did that Friday, the Dodgers’ cook telling me, though, that Lasorda’s mouth was full as soon as the Dodgers took the lead, long before the game was over.

He’s always been optimistic like that, of course, making him an easy mark for someone working Page 2 and trying to find someone who won’t quit no matter what.

“We’re going to win the division,” Lasorda said.

“If you’re so confident,” I said, “then promise if the Dodgers don’t win, you’ll dress as Santa Claus, buy $1,000 worth of toys and distribute them to the kids at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA Christmas party.”

“Put me down for $1,000, too,” said Brad Penny, and I’m sure the kids will get a kick out of someone who at times acts their age being so generous.

“I’ll play Santa,” said Lasorda, and that’s the old Winnebago spirit I wish some people had. “But if we win, then I get to write your column in The Times and tell everyone about you.”

After we agreed certain words can’t be printed in the paper, we had a deal, even though I’ll have to take another day off so Lasorda can take my place on Page 2, which might mean spending time with the family. Won’t that be fun.

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THE DODGERS’ future, and we’re probably going to see a lot more of that than a serious attempt to win the division, was on display in the ninth. Jonathan Broxton, most likely next year’s closer, recorded his first major league save.

Catcher Russell Martin said hitters have to “sit on one pitch” when facing Broxton, because if they try to hit the whole assortment, they’re goners. Eric Gagne offered the same dilemma, and to show you how smart Martin already is as a rookie with 65 starts under his face mask, he said he’s not about to start comparing the two -- now that Broxton is only 160 saves behind Gagne.

“No way I’m going there,” Martin said.

*

JOHN AND Ashley Force are featured on the reality TV show “Driving Force,” and while that might not be must-see TV, they’ll be guests on the father/daughter gabfest today on 570 at 9 a.m., because they’re drag racers living in Yorba Linda, and if you had neighbors capable of going 330 mph down the road, you’d want to keep tabs on their whereabouts too.

*

TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from Rita Esquivel:

“Hopefully the owners of the Dodgers will give [a blind] Loren DePhillips season tickets.”

I don’t think Dodgers management sees things as you do.


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