Now Pitching, No. 21 .. er .. No. 43

Randy Wolf

Randy Wolf, who had 12 no-decisions over his 18 starts this season, decided to skip the four-leaf clovers and the horseshoes, and pick a lucky number. Wearing No. 43 last night in New York, instead of the 21 he has worn all season, the Dodgers scored 11 for him and he finally earned his fourth win against three losses by an 11-2 margin.

Admittedly, part of his luck this night was a six-run outburst in the first two innings and facing a team he has topped six times in the last nine starts and has recorded a 12-5, 3.29 record in his career 30 starts.

The left-hander struggled through 6.1 tough innings, giving up seven hits and throwing a season-high 118 pitches. He came into the game 0-2 in seven starts since beating the Cubs 2-1 back on May 28.

He didn't have his "A" game working over the first three innings and he had to used 75 pitches to reach the fourth. But then, like magic, something kicked in, perhaps the new number, and he retired 13 of the next 14 New Yorkers before a leadoff double on his 118th pitch in the seventh drew manager Joe Torre's attention.

"There's not a baseball player that's not superstitious," Wolf said, defending the jersey change. "And if they tell you they're not, they're lying."

Out went Wolf, in came wonderkind James McDonald who pitched hitless 1.2 innings before Claudio Vargas who pitched around a walk and a single to put the game away.

"I feel I've been throwing the ball pretty well," Wolf said. "Obviously, I don't have much to show for it. But the fact I'm on a team with the best record in baseball, and if we continue at this pace, I can get to my first playoff. I'll take that over a whole bunch of wins -- having a ring and celebrating and opening champagne."

It was Wolf's 11th quality start and 15th of at least six innings. In 12 of his no-decisions, he was the pitcher of record and potential winner when he left the game. Wolf has a 3.45 ERA and is on pace for a 222-inning season.

Then, too, it's always lucky when your team supports you with 17 hits and nine walks.

Manny Ramirez showed positive indications he is about back to fighting trim when he had RBI singles on the first two pitches thrown to him, He was walked in his next two trips to the plate.

Ramirez left after seven innings having gone 2-for-2 with two walks. He is 6-for-18 (.333) with two homers and seven RBIs in six games since returning from a 50-game drug suspension. "I'm getting there. I haven't played in two months. Got to go baby steps," Ramirez said.

Orlando Hudson, fighting a horrendous 2-for-32 slump, rapped a three-run double in the first inning while hitting from the no. eight hole for the first time this year.

Hudson was also hit on the knee by an errant pitch in the seventh inning and left the game under his own power in favor of Juan Castro, who took an intentional walk to load the bases and pitch to him personally and ripped a two-run single to right field in the eighth.

"I'm still terrible," he said after going 1-for-3. "Got a long way to go."

Russell Martin had a remarkable night. He came to the plate with the bases loaded in the first, fourth and sixth, then with two runners on in the eighth and ninth. With that array of runners available, he struck out, line out twice, grounded out, walked and ripped a two-run single.

Matt Kemp, the best eighth-place hitter in baseball, singled three times, walks and line out to go 8-for-11 in the series and boost his team-leading average to .319. Kemp is batting a blistering .480 in July.

Rafael Furcal doubled twice, singled and scored three runs in his first three appearances and finished the evening 3-for-5. Andre Ethier and Casey Blake had a pair of hits each.

The top three in the order, Furcal, Ethier and Ramirez, reached base 11 of their first 12 trips to the plate and finished the game with a hit or a walk 13-of-18 trips.

Los Angeles took two of three in its first trip to new Citi Field and won the season series 5-1 against the Mets, who are beset by injuries and have lost five of six and 10 of 13.

"We've been aggressive. Manny makes a big difference in our lineup, there's no question," Torre said. "I think it helps our personality when guys who maybe put a little extra pressure on themselves when he was gone look to him like a security blanket."

Wolf's new uniform number brought a win, but perhaps most important was his matchup with the fourth-place Mets (40-44).

The Dodgers enter the first half's final weekend with baseball's best record at 54-31. They also own the largest division lead in the National League.

Shane Victorino of the Phillies received the All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote, leaving Kemp with three days off.

The Dodgers close out a nine-game, three-city road trip in Milwaukee this weekend before the all-star break , with Chad Billingsley facing the Brewers' Braden Looper in the opener on tonight.

Billingsley (9-4, 3.14 ERA) will be attempting to win his 10th game for the fifth time, losing a chance in San Diego after taking a two-hitter into the ninth inning. He struck out five without a walk, but also allowed a pair of homers and hasn't won since June 14.

Looper (7-4, 4.78 ERA) limited the Cubs to two runs on six hits in six innings on July 4 despite working without good command of his fastball. He has a 4.68 ERA in 24 career appearances against the Dodgers, all but one of those games in relief.

  Score by Innings
Los Angeles	420 200 00-11
New York Mets	101 000 000- 2

Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Furcal ss	5  3  3  0  .260
Ethier rf	5  2  2  0  .249
Ramirez lf	2  2  2  2  .345
 Pierre lf	2  0  1  0  .329
Blake 3b	5  1  2  1  .290
 DeWitt 3b	1  0  0  0  .182
Loney 1b	3  2  1  0  .279
Martin c	5  1  1  2  .255
Hudson 2b	3  0  1  3  .285
 Castro pr-2b	1  0  1  3  .343
Kemp cf	        4  0  2  1  .319
Wolf p	        3  0  0  0  .086
 McDonald p	1  0  0  0  .000
 Vargas p	0  0  0  0  .000
---------------------------------
  Totals  	40 11 17 11 
  Mets	        33  2  8  2

  2B- Furcal 2 (16),Hudson (24).
RBI- Ramirez 2 (27), Hudson 3 (46),
Blake (53), Martin 2 (25), Castro 2 (9),
Kemp (46). S- Wolf. LOB- Los Angeles 13,
Mets 9. PO- Kemp (2). DP- Castro, Furcal
and Loney 2.

  Los Angeles	 in  h r-er bb so  era
Wolf (4-3)	6.1  7  2-2  2  3  3.45
McDonald 	1.2  0  0-0  2  2  5.00
Vargas	        1.0  1  0-0  1  0  0.00
  HBP- Hudson. T- 3:20. Att- 39,865.
Dodger Blue Notes-- Furcal is hitting .448 since returning to the leadoff spot on July 3. ...Ramirez went 2-for-2 to close out the series in New York 5-for-11 with a home run and six RBIs. Torre said he might give Ramirez a rest this weekend in Milwaukee. ...The Dodgers took the season series from the Mets by winning five of six, the first time they've taken the season series since 2002. ...Mets cleanup hitter Gary Sheffield was ejected by plate umpire Marty Foster after James McDonald nailed him with a called third strike to end the seventh. ...Wolf wore #43 while with the Phillies before being issued #41 when he signed with the Dodgers. By Spring Training, he was in #52 for his first season with L.A. Last season, he wore #25 with the Padres and #39 with the Astros before starting this year as #21. ...On this date in 1996, Mike Piazza was named the MVP of the All-Star Game in Philadelphia. Before family and friends, Piazza drove in two runs with a 445-foot homer and a double, becoming the first Dodger to win MVP honors since Steve Garvey in 1978. ...Since he resumed his duties as hitting coach at the All-Star break last season, Don Mattingly has guided Dodger batters to a .276 batting average, the best mark in the NL by five percentage points (St. Louis ranks second at .271). The Dodgers' .351 on-base percentage since then is seven points higher than the second-place Mets (.344) and their 576 walks are second in the NL only to the Brewers (583). 

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