Dodgers in home harmony

Tim Brown

LOS ANGELES – The guy in left caused all the commotion.

He pumped another ball into the left-field bleachers, scared a few more National League pitchers, comically took a 3-and-0 pitch in the rear end and drove business in the souvenir stands.

The guy in left can fill 3½ hours on a ball field.

He stood out there for another day not embarrassing himself or the organization and had fun not doing it. He showed up early and took an extra base, and hit a sacrifice fly, and put his glove in the general area of the baseball when it discourteously shot toward him.

Manny Ramirez tied his hair back and drove in three more runs and waved to his people Monday night, while the Los Angeles Dodgers were winning again. After their 7-2 win over Arizona, not only are the Dodgers 19-8 and 5½ games clear in the NL West, they haven't lost in 11 home games, a modern-day league record.

It is his time and his team still. But, the L.A. story is changing. While we were all looking at the guy in left, the Dodgers became a pretty good team around him, and the relationship between him and the other eight became something resembling symbiotic.

So, Andre Ethier gives away fewer at-bats and drives in 25 runs, and Matt Kemp works harder and draws 12 walks, and catcher Russell Martin – batting .224 – thrills management by showing up five hours before game time to watch more video. Not of himself, but of opposing hitters, so he can lead Eric Stults through another start.

They won't always pitch, but they are for the moment. And that means the Dodgers are a daunting team, because it looks like they're going to hit all summer long, the reason they've already swept home series against the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres, and are a win Tuesday night (behind Jeff Weaver's first start) from getting the Arizona Diamondbacks, too, which would tie the 1911 Detroit Tigers' 12-0 at Bennett Park for the best home start ever.

They'll all take the wins, of course, take the big April, take the tone they're setting in the West, where they might not be challenged much past Father's Day. Better, they'll take all the hunks of effort that is getting them there, to the deep counts and the forced fastballs and the gassed starters.

"Last year we got a taste of what we're capable of," Kemp said.

And now his on-base percentage for four weeks is .380, 40 points better than it was last season.

"I feel real confident," he said. "When I don't do good, I don't let it get to me as much anymore. Because I've got a team to back me up."

Ethier hit his sixth home run Monday night, a pitch after the guy in left hit his sixth. The Diamondbacks pitched around the guy in left – or tried to – over and over, and Ethier kept hitting line drives behind him, and the Dodgers kept scoring anyway.

"I think it just comes with maturity," said Ethier, using the very word Joe Torre did.

It is especially jarring to hold up against the Diamondbacks, whose pivotal players are of the same generation as the young Dodgers. They do not, however, have the same kind of guy in left, nor do they have settled and sturdy veterans in the places where they have simply run out of youth.

"What it does," Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said, "is take the pressure off the young guys to be 'The Guys.' You don't feel like you have to be 'The Guy' every night. There's a central figure in that lineup."

OK, so every once in a while, it helps to have the bat that almost never goes cold. A year ago, the Diamondbacks were 20-8, and they were the ones who'd figured it out.

"I'm sure they feel good about it every day," Melvin said, nodding across the field at the Dodgers. "Just as we did last year."

They do seem to be enjoying themselves. Course, when everybody's hitting (almost everybody), every night's a party, or could be, and not just in left field.

After this one, after seven more runs that could have been twice that, Torre sat in his office piecing it together. He said he liked the way they were playing, was proud of their resolve, loved the at-bats. Then, in a quiet moment, he asked about the Lakers. Across town, they'd lost.

"The Lakers lost?" he repeated "At home, huh?"

Yeah, it happens sometimes.