Dodgers having fun playing Torre’s game

Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- The All-Star break is seven games away, and Andre Ethier thinks the words of Joe Torre are finally starting to sink in to the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

“It’s tough when you have a new system, a new manager,” Ethier said. “Baseball’s baseball, but each manager has what he looks for and what he wants guys to do, how he wants them to play. It takes time to get everyone to completely buy into it and do what it takes to win on an everyday basis.”

Torre said that in the last week, he’s noticed a change in the Dodgers, who face the Atlanta Braves tonight to begin a homestand that will take them into the All-Star break. In the seven-game trip that concluded Sunday with a 5-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants at AT&T; Park, Torre said he saw a “loose bunch” that was also “attentive.”

The Dodgers are two games under .500 but went 5-2 on the trip, have won their last three series and are half a game behind first-place Arizona in the NL West.


“These guys are into the games,” Torre said. “It’s a change that I sense right now. To me, it started this road trip.”

Paying attention is what Torre has stressed to his players. He’s told them to pay attention to what’s happening in the game regardless of whether they’re playing. He’s told them to pay attention to the situation when they go up to hit.

“It’s fun when you stay involved and it breeds success like it’s doing right now,” Ethier said.

“Fun” described the atmosphere in the clubhouse Sunday.

Reliever Brian Falkenborg picked up his second career win, his first since his last stint with the Dodgers in 2004, and observed, “Wins are like the Olympics for me, I guess.”

Falkenborg (1-1) shouldered the responsibility for the Dodgers’ loss the previous night, when he gave up three of the four runs in a crucial seventh inning. Sunday, he entered the game at another key juncture, replacing starter Eric Stults in the fifth inning with none out, runners on the corners and the Dodgers holding on to a 5-2 lead.

Falkenborg got Bengie Molina and Aaron Rowand to pop up and ended the threat by striking out Jose Castillo.

“He was the key guy today,” said Hong-Chih Kuo, who took over in the next inning and tossed two shutout innings to lower his earned-run average to 1.79.

“We’re having fun, man,” outfielder Matt Kemp said. “Even when we get down, our mood never changes. We lost yesterday, but we came back today with some momentum and attitude.”

James Loney and Ethier continued to hit, with Ethier reaching base on a single in the first and scoring on a double by Loney.

A throwing error by Stults led to a run that tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom half of the inning, but the Dodgers took the lead for good by scoring two runs in the third. A properly executed hit-and-run by Stults, coupled with a throwing error by shortstop Emmanuel Burriss, put men on first and second. Kemp drove in Berroa with a single and Ethier knocked in Stults with a sacrifice fly.

A home run by Rich Aurilia in the fourth closed the gap to 3-2, but the Dodgers increased the lead to 5-2 on a two-run double by Loney in the fifth.

Giants starter Matt Cain (5-7) fell to 0-4 in seven starts against the Dodgers, giving up five runs and eight hits in six innings. Cain struck out five and walked three.

Torre called the win “big,” noting the players who were out of the lineup -- veterans Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra and Andruw Jones.

“The personality right now is good,” the manager said.