J.C.'s Dodger Line Drives, July 22 : L.A.'s Manny and Chad Show Stifles Cincy

J.C. AyvaziSenior Analyst IJuly 23, 2009

Manny Ramirez unloads on a knee-high fastball for his 21st career grand slam and the winning margin in Wednesday's game against Cincinnati's Nick Masset. Photo Credit: J.C. Ayvazi

Sometimes good things happen to those who wait.

Other times, it can really be something tremendous, such as what happened Wednesday night when Dodger fans in general and Manny Ramirez in particular waited for six innings before setting off a king-sized cannon charge in the form of a pinch-hit grand slam to pace the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

On a night the Dodgers gave away bobblehead dolls of the dreadlocked slugger, the sellout crowd of 56,000 rejoiced after Manny stepped forward to provide yet another thrill to the championship-starved baseball fans of Los Angeles.

Manny was originally in the first draft of the lineup, as he gave a thumbs up to the coaching staff during early workouts. That was until Dodger manager Joe Torre consulted with the training staff. One quick edit later, Manny was out, Juan Pierre was in, and starting pitcher Chad Billingsley found himself batting eighth in the order.

Since this all took place before the official lineups were submitted, Manny was still eligible to play in the game. While he didn't play long, one can be confident Reds manager Dusty Baker thought he was in far too long.

This was Manny's first ever pinch-hit homer and the fourth bomb pulled off the bench for the Dodgers this season.

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Since being sprung from Bud Selig's doghouse, Manny is hitting .347 (17-for-49) with four taters and 17 RBI.

The Bill Comes Due

Billingsley, the snake-bit Dodger ace, was able to snap a six-game winless streak by posting six innings of mostly good pitching.

The game started off in less than stellar fashion as the first Red to face him, right fielder Chris Dickerson, smacked a ground-rule double to left center. One out later, Joey Votto doubled him home with a drive just fair down the right field line.

Billingsley then found his groove, retiring the next eight hitters, until Votto and Brandon Phillips led off the fourth with singles. A grounder to first was turned into a slick 3-6-3 double play by James Loney, and Edwin Encarnacion struck out to end the threat.

The fifth inning also challenged Billingsley, as Jerry Hairston Jr. led off with a double but was nailed by catcher Russell Martin when he tried to steal third, violating one of baseball's cardinal rules by making the first out of an inning at third.

He could not get by three times in a row though, as Willy Taveras led off the sixth with a single and stole second. Votto's third hit of the night moved Taveras to third, where he later scored on a wild pitch. Billingsley bounced back to strike out Encarnacion to end this threat as well.

For the game, Billingsley went six innings, allowing two runs (both earned), seven hits, and one walk. He struck out seven, threw 93 pitches, of which 59 were strikes, and moved his record to 10-5.

Afterward, Billingsley expressed some relief at ending his drought but was quick to credit his teammates, particularly Manny, for picking him up.

While describing his last six outings as surreal, Billingsley made a point to go right after the hitters. Of the 24 batters faced, Billingsley got first pitch strikes on 16 of them. Chad also mentioned how he moved to the other side of the rubber to try to improve his control.

Improved command of his curveball kept Reds hitters from sitting on Billingsley's hard stuff. Chad was pleased he was able to spot it much better than last time out, when the Astros knocked him around the yard, chasing him after an inning and two-thirds.

Return of the Big Blue Wrecking Crew

Right fielder Andre Ethier drilled a home run to tie the game in the first inning, knocking a 1-1 fastball into the center field stands. Ethier matched his career high of 20 from last season.

Combined with Manny's granny in the sixth, this marked the third straight game against the Reds that Los Angeles has blasted two home runs.

Monday, Manny and Andre each went deep, and Tuesday Loney and Rafael Furcal turned the trick—with Randy Wolf just missing one of his own, tattooing the wall in the right field corner.

Also in Wednesday's game, Casey Blake just missed on a deep fly to center leading off the sixth inning. Taveras leaped high at the wall to make the catch.

Speed Demon Loney

For the second night in a row, a Dodger tripled down the left field line. Last night, it was Manny in the first inning. Tonight, Loney pulled the three-bag trick, with a fly ball down the line on which the Reds' Laynce Nix tried to make a sliding catch. The ball landed in front of Nix and bounced behind him, scoring Ethier, who had walked, and allowing the 6'3", 220-pound Loney to ramble into third without a play.

Dugout Whispers

Before the game, Torre was asked what adjustments the staff had made in regards to Billingsley after the Astro bombardment. He spoke of mechanical changes, trying to get a consistent follow-through in Chad's delivery. The results were mixed, as a handful of times Billingsley seemed off-balance after delivering a pitch.

Torre also mentioned how Chad will put more pressure on himself than necessary, given the departure of Derek Lowe and Brad Penny from last year's team and Hiroki Kuroda's injury after the first game of this season.

On the Hong-Chih Kuo front, Torre informed the media Kuo will pitch in a minor league game this Friday, and he then expects Kuo to be able to rejoin the major league roster next week while the Dodgers are on the road, given no setbacks. The return of Kuo will be a major boost to a Dodger pen that has suffered injuries to Ronald Belisario, Cory Wade, Will Ohman, and a season-ender for the star-crossed Eric Milton.

The next topic on the table was the health of second baseman Orlando Hudson, who left the game Sunday after aggravating his left wrist, which was broken last year. Torre said Orlando is looking straight ahead, the wrist is fine, and the area that bothered him Sunday was not related to his previous injury.

The O-Dog is not limited from this recent event, although he has been playing without the ability to bend his wrist backwards all year, an amazing thing when it comes to certain fielding requirements that are part and parcel of playing second base.

Schmidt Schtuff

Caught up with Jason Schmidt before the game. After I said I represent Bleacher Report, Schmidt wondered if he should even talk to me. After checking his iPhone and finding nothing negative, he agreed to answer a few questions.

When asked about his feelings after the long road he traveled to get back on a major league mound, Schmidt admitted to having mixed feelings. Obviously, he was happy to be back and contributing, particularly with a playoff-caliber team like the Dodgers.

He was also very honest about it being difficult with the depleted arsenal he now takes to the mound compared to his pitch quality prior to the injuries. Having to fight from pitch to pitch, tooth and nail, is not how he enjoys going about his work.

I asked if he thought about trying to throw a knuckleball, which drew a quick laugh. Schmidt spoke of talking and joking with Charlie Hough, a longtime knuckleball pitcher who is currently the pitching coach at the Dodger Single-A team in the California League.

If he was going to consider playing for another five years, it might be the way to go, but that does not seem likely given his injury history. Schmidt also mentioned his young children—who are two, five, and eight years old. He wants to spend as much time as possible with them after what he has missed already.

They are the reason for everything, he said, which shows Jason has a very strong grip on his priorities, even if he no longer has a blazing fastball.

Buckling Up Your Chinstrap

Another pitcher I spoke with before the game was Clayton "Chinstrap" Kershaw. Every time I have visited the Dodger clubhouse, he has been very open and happy to speak with the media. Even the hard-bitten T.J. Simers from the L.A. Times cannot find much to complain about, other than not having something to complain about.

A Dallas native, it was natural for Chinstrap to grow up a Cowboy fan. While a freshman in high school, he played center in front of Matthew Stafford—the overall top pick in the recent NFL draft out of the University of Georgia—and realized his future lay elsewhere.  He stopped playing football after one high school season to concentrate on baseball.

Now I'm sure you are wondering where this "Chinstrap" business is coming from. This adjective has been heard bouncing around the Dodger clubhouse the last month or so. It refers to his attempt, not overly successful, to grow a beard. Let's just say nobody will be confusing Chinstrap with Casey Blake.

As a whisker-wearer myself, I asked Chinstrap if he minded my using this nickname for him. Mildly amused at first, Chinstrap gave his consent. The reason I like the nickname, beyond the beard aspect, comes from the dominating stuff Chinstrap brings to the mound—thus leaving the opposing team hanging on by their collective chinstraps and cursing their fate.

So now, the nickname is officially unveiled. Feel free to refer to Kershaw as "Chinstrap" in your articles, my fellow Bleacher Creatures.

Clubhouse Chronicles

Spoke quickly with Randy Wolf prior to the game, asking about the change in the way he wore his socks, with the pant leg tucked in and displaying the solid blue socks. He said he needed to do something to change his bad luck this season.

My follow-up was about keeping the style for his next game, to which Wolf played coy. When asked if he is superstitious, Wolf replied, "Yes." So look for Wolf to be showing those Dodger Blue socks again the next time he hits the mound.

After the game, Wade was seen taking a box of stuff from his locker, which may be in preparation for a trip down to the minors and the start of a rehab stint. Belisario was seen in the Dodger clubhouse tonight, but not Ohman, at least by your humble correspondent.

Naturally, Manny drew a good-sized post-game crowd around his locker. He said how pleased he was to give the fans something to remember the night by, as well as his being honored with the comparisons to stars such as Lou Gehrig. Manny trails the Iron Horse now by two on the career grand slam chart.

Torre expects Manny to be ready to go on Friday, given the team has Thursday off.

Matt Kemp was letting it be known he plans to dominate the other Dodgers Thursday night at the charity bowling event many of the Dodgers will be attending. Manny and event host Loney are both in his sights. Sounds ripe for plenty of verbal darts to be tossed, in a good-natured way.

Shutting the Door

Even though it wasn't a save situation, Torre called on Jonathan Broxton to pitch the ninth inning. Broxton is surprisingly soft-spoken, when compared to his height and blistering fastball.

When asked if he was surprised to get the call with a four-run lead, his answer was, "No." The next question was if he always comes in once gotten up and ready, and again Broxton responded, "No."

Craving more than a single-word reply, I asked for his feelings about the Dodger team being 41-1 in games he has appeared in this year. After a quick grin, Broxton said, "It's pretty awesome, but there is plenty of baseball to go still."

Goes to show more than just batters can find the Dodger closer to be a challenge, but I don't mind having to work for a quote from the man who has grown so well into what may be the most difficult role any player has in this sport.

J.C. Ayvazi is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and the Dodger Community Leader.

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