Split is latest great pickup
The Dodgers ultimately didn’t gain or lose any ground to first-place Arizona in the standings over the last four days, but the sense in their clubhouse Sunday was that they were better positioned to win the NL West than they were at the start of the series.
They beat the Diamondbacks, 9-3, to split a four-game series that they had started by losing the first two games. The victory inched them back to within a game of first place and gave them a 7-3 record on their 10-game homestand, as their pitching staff regained its first-half rhythm and posted a 1.80 earned-run average.
And Manny Ramirez continued being Manny Ramirez, which on this day translated into his first four-hit game of the season and the 512th home run of his career, tying him for 20th place on the all-time list with Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews.
Behind Ramirez, who was four for five with a double and three runs batted in, the Dodgers pounded out 16 hits, equaling their season-best total.
“It was absolutely huge,” Manager Joe Torre said. “When you lose the first two, this is the best you can do.”
Torre never hid his belief that the game Sunday was of great importance, particularly because of the 1-2 -- and sometimes 1-2-3 -- punch in the Diamondbacks’ rotation. Making up ground on a team with Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and Randy Johnson isn’t easy, Torre warned.
“Even if Randy’s inconsistent because of his age, which is no guarantee, Haren and that other young man named Webb, they’re pretty damn good,” Torre said. “You have to respect them when they can throw three starters at you like they can.”
Torre cited pitching as the reason his Yankees dominated the Boston Red Sox for most of his 12-year tenure managing in New York.
“We’d always catch them after the break,” Torre said. “But when they started addressing their pitching, they became the team that won two championships. Over the years, that’s the one axiom that’s never changed: A good pitcher will stop good hitting.”
Derek Lowe, who lost a pitchers’ duel to Webb in the series opener Thursday, said the victory Sunday set up the team well for a challenging stretch that includes 29 games in 30 days beginning Tuesday.
“If you look at our schedule for the next three weeks, it’s going to be tough,” Lowe said. “But if you want to be a playoff team, which we obviously want to be, you have to go out and beat teams that are good.”
The Dodgers will start a six-game trip in St. Louis, facing a contending Cardinals team that took two of three from them at Dodger Stadium in May and owns a 15-5 record against them since the start of the 2005 season.
The Dodgers have 20 games against teams with winning records, 14 over the next three weeks, including eight games against NL East-leading Philadelphia.
The Diamondbacks over the same stretch face only one team with a record better than .500, the Florida Marlins.
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks have six more games against each other, the first three of which will be in Arizona at the end of the month.
The Dodgers got a shaky outing Sunday from starter Jason Johnson, who gave up three runs in 4 1/3 innings. But Johnson is scheduled to be replaced in the rotation Friday by opening-day starter Brad Penny, who has been sidelined for seven weeks because of a stiff shoulder.
The infusion of Penny into the rotation will come at a time when the Dodgers’ lineup has been bolstered by the infusion of Ramirez, who was eight for 13 with a double, two home runs and five runs batted in in his first three games for his new team.
Ramirez drove in his first run Sunday in the first inning, his single to left scoring Matt Kemp.
He doubled to score Russell Martin to cap a three-run second inning that put the Dodgers ahead, 5-2.
Ramirez homered in the fifth and Kemp, who was three for five, hit his 13th home run of the season in the eighth inning.
“He has a relaxed feel to him, but he has a passion for winning,” first baseman James Loney said of Ramirez. “You can’t ask for a better teammate than that.”