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Dunn is Diamondbacks' Donkey Kong

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

PHOENIX – The man they call Big Donkey said, sure, he still talks to Junior all the time.

At that moment, as though summoned, his cell phone shimmied like one of those old electric football players.

"This is him right here, I guarantee you," he said. "He calls me every day. Hit a homer today."

He held up the phone.

"See?"

Ken Griffey Jr., fellow Cincinnati Reds expat, indeed had homered for the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday afternoon.

Adam Dunn let out a big donkey laugh. Yeah, this pennant-race stuff is a kick.

"This is a side of baseball I've never seen," he said. "I've never been here."

Three hours later, Dunn lined a fastball over the right-field wall at Chase Field, a first-inning tracer off San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy that scored three runs and made the Arizona Diamondbacks game again.

And so the National League West, the plainest of divisions, is not just a two-team race, but potentially a two-man race.

Eleven days after the Dodgers relieved the Boston Red Sox of Manny Ramirez (and eight days after Ramirez put a three-game whipping on them), the Diamondbacks took the plunge with Dunn.

Like Ramirez, Dunn will be a free agent after the season.

Like Ramirez, he bats fourth in a lineup that hadn't done much cleaning up without him.

Like Ramirez, he's not much in the field, but, oh, what he can do with a bat.

And like the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks are an entirely different offensive team today, more like the 161-run mirage we saw in April, and now their ballpark is aflutter with homemade signs gushing, "I like mine well Dunn," and, "Hey, Gracie, call it an Adam bomb!"

L.A.'s Manny Mania is Phoenix's Donkey Throng.

"I love it out here," Dunn said. "I know it's only August whatever, but it seems like every day does matter now. And oh yeah, I'm nervous. I haven't been nervous in a long time. I keep waiting for the nerves to go away, but they haven't."

By nature of his Reds upbringing, Dunn nearly made it all the way to free agency without playing for a winner. He nearly made it to freedom without ever tasting a big at-bat, without ever hitting a big home run, without ever experiencing September as anything other than one-month-to-go.

And now he has hit home runs in each of his first two home games, both Diamondbacks wins. In his first eight games of consequence, he has reached base more than half the time, forced pitches to teammates who were beginning to look like the moments were getting too big and stood in the middle of a lineup averaging nearly seven runs a game since he first pulled on the clubhouse door.

Those 32 home runs before he got here? Those 270 career home runs? Nice. Fine. Impressive.

The last two?

"That's why we've got Dunn right there, I guess," Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds said. "It's awesome. He creates so much. It's pretty cool to have something like that."

They beat the Padres on Wednesday night, 8-6. They won though their 14-game winner, Dan Haren, allowed four first-inning runs. But with one out, a couple of guys got on, Dunn came up and worked Peavy for seven pitches, the last of which changed everything.

"I was hoping at 3-2 Jake wouldn't throw me the slider right there," Dunn said, "and he didn't."

Fastball, down.

"He hits homers," Peavy said. "He changes games."

Meanwhile in L.A., Ramirez had a lousy single in four at-bats, the Dodgers lost, and the Diamondbacks are two games up.

"When I talked to Adam, I told him, 'Don't try to be something you're not,' " Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said. "Just be Adam Dunn. And he's been exactly that."

Dunn saw 22 pitches in four plate appearances. He walked twice, once after an 0-2 count. He's going to strike out – "obviously," he said, "I strike out a lot" – but what happens around those strikeouts is going to help color a division race.

The Dodgers and Diamondbacks pitch alike. They win and lose alike. And their GMs, for one stretch drive, began to think alike. One hitter, one deep threat, one guy who can drag a club along for five or six weeks, who maybe wins a division.

Just as Ramirez has lightened the load on Matt Kemp, James Loney and Andre Ethier, Dunn is a nice place to lean for Reynolds, Chris Young and Stephen Drew.

"It just seems like it takes a lot of pressure off a lot of the guys," Melvin said. "Nailing down the four-hole for us allows guys not to press so much."

So out with the prospects and in with the heavy bats, the broad backs, the significant Septembers. That's good because the first 4½ months, for the most part, weren't so significant.

"For so long we played poorly, and nobody really gained on us," Melvin said. "We're lucky to be in the position we are."

Tell Dunn about it.

"This is something," he said, "I've been waiting for since I've been in the big leagues."