Ekstrom bests Manny, but Padres can't
San Diego rookie hurler ducks trouble; LA, slugger prevail
SAN DIEGO -- It was his Major League debut so, of course, Mike Ekstrom was trying to make a good impression, though his first concern was getting outs, which wasn't always easy for the Padres on Wednesday.
At least when Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez was at the plate, taking a big swing and producing even bigger results against the Padres, a team that is fast becoming his newest whipping post.
Ramirez popped two home runs Wednesday and made spacious PETCO Park look small as the Dodgers rolled past the Padres, 7-2, before a crowd of 27,208 which cheered and also booed Ramirez every turn he took at the plate.
Ekstrom, 25, tried not to notice the commotion, especially when he was on the mound in the seventh inning, having walked the first two hitters he faced. That brought up Ramirez, who had already hit one home run to that point.
"I was trying not to see who was coming up, but with him, you know," said Ekstrom, the latest bright-eyed rookie to make his debut with the Padres, who have turned the last month of the season into an open audition for roster spots in 2009.
"When he comes up, you know what you're getting into."
The Padres (56-90) certainly do, as Ramirez has hit four home runs and already knocked in 10 runs in six games between the teams. His two-run home run in the ninth inning off another rookie, Dirk Hayhurst, is probably still traveling.
The Dodgers (75-71) certainly knew what they were getting into with Ramirez as well, though they probably didn't envision this kind of production -- a .396 batting average, 14 home runs and 40 RBIs in only 38 games -- when they traded for him in July.
Los Angeles was two games out of first place when it acquired Ramirez. Today, it's 3 1/2 games ahead of slumping Arizona in what is fast turning into a one-team race.
"What we've seen, at some point, is that type of performance out of Manny," said Padres manager Bud Black, who was a teammate of Ramirez's briefly in 1995, when they were with the Cleveland Indians. "He keeps it as simple as possible. His swing is so pure."
Pure, though, apparently, not without holes, as Ekstrom discovered in the seventh inning when he was able to sneak a fastball down and on the outside corner past Ramirez for a strikeout, clearly the highlight of his two-inning scoreless stint.
"I wanted to keep it down and minimize the damage," Ekstrom said. "Fortunately, he took that last one."
Ramirez's first home run came off Padres starting pitcher Shawn Estes (2-2), who had his share of struggles with the left-handed hitters in the Dodgers' lineup -- Estes is a left-hander -- than he did anyone else.
Lefty James Loney had a home run in the second inning and another lefty, Blake DeWitt, added an RBI double in the same inning. The home run Estes allowed to Ramirez in the fifth inning was preceded by a single to left-hander Andre Ethier.
"I take pride in getting left-handed hitters out, and I couldn't do it tonight," said Estes, who allowed five runs on six hits in five innings.
For their lack of success against Dodgers starter Derek Lowe, the Padres had a chance to get back in the game in the seventh inning against the Dodgers' bullpen.
Pitcher Brad Penny, activated from the disabled list earlier in the day after missing nearly a month with an inflamed right shoulder, walked rookie Will Venable to begin the inning. Penny then yielded a single to Josh Bard and an infield single to rookie Matt Antonelli to load the bases.
Los Angeles manager Joe Torre went to his bullpen for Cory Wade, who got yet another rookie, Drew Macias, to fly out to Ramirez in left field as a run scored. Wade got out of the inning when he coaxed Brian Giles into hitting a ball hard at second baseman Blake DeWitt, who stepped on second and threw to first for the double play.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.