Manny begins trek toward regaining form
Outfielder shakes off rust with sea of Dodger blue in stands
SAN DIEGO -- A journey of 100 at-bats begins with a single at-bat, and for Manny Ramirez on Friday night that at-bat came in the first inning of his return engagement at PETCO Park.After sitting 50 games for an infraction of Major League Baseball's Drug Policy, Ramirez milked seven pitches from Padres starter Chad Gaudin to draw a key walk during what turned out to be a five-run first inning.
"I thought the walk was pretty amazing," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said after his team closed out a 6-3 victory. "It lets you know what kind of hitter he is, how well he knows the strike zone. He had a 2-2 count and worked the walk. I'd have been a little jumpy if I was him."Otherwise, I think he looked OK. There's no question he's rusty. The only way you play this game is to practice it, and he really hasn't had a lot of practice." Ramirez went 0-for-3 in the wake of his walk in front of a sellout crowd of 42,217, which included a huge contingent of Dodgers fans cheering every one of his moves. He grounded out in both the second and fourth innings and popped out to short center before exiting the game after the top of the sixth. In the field, he caught one fly ball and played a single flawlessly. That's Chapter 1, over and done. "It was great," Ramirez said afterward. "I felt a little nervous at first, but once I came to the plate, I was fine. Our guys are playing great. I just try to do my job and follow those guys, play hard and do good things out there." Unlike last season, when Ramirez carried the Dodgers into the playoffs with a rousing offensive outburst in the two months after he was traded by the Red Sox, now it's evident that he's once again a needed component like he was on the Boston teams that won the World Series in 2004 and '07. The Dodgers are 30-21 since May 7, the day Ramirez began his suspension, and at 51-29 own the best record in the Majors. "The team was successful when we played without him," Dodgers backup catcher Brad Ausmus said. "These guys have done a very good job, and our record shows we don't need Manny to be a winning team. However, I think we all prefer that Manny be here."
|"The fans will boo. They booed him [Manny] even before all this stuff happened. When you're good, you get booed. I want to get booed."|
|-- Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp on Manny Ramirez|
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.