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Wolf has come up aces for Dodgers

By Beth Harris
Associated Press / October 7, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - Randy Wolf has seen a lot in his 11-year career, just never the playoffs. He’s finally getting a chance in the stadium where he watched the Los Angeles Dodgers as a kid.

The 33-year-old lefthander proved to be the most consistent starter for the repeat National League West champions, although he quickly rejects the label of staff ace.

“I almost despise that word,’’ Wolf said yesterday. “A guy like Chris Carpenter, you could consider him an ace. He’s done it year in, year out. He’s the guy who is almost a perennial top-five Cy Young voting guy.’’

Carpenter will start for the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 tonight against Wolf. The 2005 Cy Young winner is a strong contender again this season, boasting a 17-4 record and an NL-best 2.24 ERA.

Wolf describes himself in less lofty terms.

“I’ve kept the team in the game,’’ he said. “With this staff, we could have an ace on any given day. That’s why I don’t like to use that term. It’s just try to pitch as well as you can, that’s the key.’’

Wolf proved durable this season, setting career highs with 34 starts and 214 1/3 innings just two years after lasting half a season for the Dodgers because of injury.

He ended the regular season strongly, going 6-1 in his final nine starts with a 2.51 ERA. Overall, he was 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA that was second on the staff to Clayton Kershaw’s 2.79.

Kershaw will start Game 2 tomorrow, while Adam Wainwright goes for the Cardinals.

The Dodgers open the series with two pitchers who lack playoff experience, Wolf and the 21-year-old Kershaw. Manager Joe Torre went with the two lefties because the Cardinals batted .234 against southpaws compared to .274 against righthanders.

“Wolf’s excited. You’ll see him snatch the ball back from Russell Martin, and that’s why he is who he is,’’ Torre said.

“Kershaw, we’ve spent the better part of two years trying to protect him and insulate him from all this exposure because he’s just a kid. Then you hand him the ball [last] Saturday and say, ‘Here, kid,’ and he comes back with a division title. He’s pretty well not anybody to be concerned about.’’

Wolf spent eight seasons with Philadelphia, enduring his share of runner-up finishes and playoff misses. Then he missed the Dodgers’ playoff run last season, which ended in the NLCS against the Phillies.

Carpenter takes no comfort in the fact that Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez comes into the playoffs having batted .218 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his last 25 games.

“If you ever take Manny Ramirez for granted, you’re crazy, no matter what he’s swinging,’’ Carpenter said. “I’m not concerned if Manny is 0 for 50. He can hit.’’

Ramirez tailed off after returning from a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy. He was hitting .348 with six homers and 20 RBIs before sitting out. He returned to hit .269 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 77 games

Ramirez is baseball’s all-time postseason home run leader with 28. His 74 RBIs are second only to former Yankees star Bernie Williams’s 80.

“He tries to get too big and really it affects his balance,’’ Torre said. “He just has to think more in terms of smaller, like the line drive. Usually the long ball will come when you sort of get yourself back in rhythm.’’

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