SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Joe Torre’s Los Angeles Dodgers have their swagger back.

The skipper has seen plenty of positive changes from his club in a matter of a few days. The NL West leaders showed they’re back on track in a big way during their recent road series with archrival San Francisco.

The Dodgers took two of three and distanced themselves in the division race — that after losing the final three of a four-game series against Atlanta at home last weekend.

“It got our fight back,” Torre said of the Giants series. “I like where we are. It’s been a long three weeks for us. I feel we’re back in a good place right now as far as just the intensity with which we are playing. … It lets you see where we are against a team sitting behind you. It was a way to measure.”

First-place Los Angeles (69-46) headed into Thursday leading Colorado by 5½ games and San Francisco by 6½. The Dodgers just completed a grueling stretch of 20 games in 20 days and were off Thursday before opening a weekend series at Arizona on Friday.

Torre appreciated his team’s energy, intensity and production in a playoff atmosphere against the Giants, who had hoped to close the gap in the division but instead lost a second straight home series for the first time all year.

The Dodgers nearly made it a sweep but lost 4-2 in 10 innings Wednesday in a wild game that featured a benches-clearing dustup and the ejections of Giants manager Bruce Bochy and later San Francisco bench coach and acting skipper Ron Wotus.

“It’s huge to get the first two,” catcher Russell Martin said. “I’m proud of us. We battled our butts off. Pitched well, played good defense.”

This isn’t the first time the Dodgers have responded following a difficult stretch. They had lost three of four in May before a six-game road trip that started in Philadelphia. Los Angeles took two of three from the World Series champion Phillies, then two of three at Florida after that.

Torre insists those experiences can only help during the stretch run — and he points to such games as examples of what he’s learned about how his team responds to tough tests. He senses a motivation from his club to make this season special after losing to the Phillies in the 2008 NL championship series.

“Hopefully everybody raises the intensity the rest of the way because it’s going to be a pretty close race and we expect that,” pitcher Jeff Weaver said.

Much of the success starts with Manny Ramirez. He is batting .289 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 35 games since returning from his 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. His teammates notice, too.

“He’s probably among the best five or six right-handed hitters I’ve seen,” Torre said. “When Manny first came on board they pretty much watched everything he did. I had exposure to him playing against him, managing against him and having him in several All-Star games but you never really paid attention to his daily routine. Once he came over to us last year, I was very impressed by the seriousness with which he does things. I’m sure players watch him because they’re always sort of aware of where he is all the time.”

Ramirez constantly was in the middle of the action against the Giants — intentional walks, safely avoiding a pickoff attempt while on first, and a home run of course. The boos and walks don’t faze him.

“I don’t got no control over that,” Ramirez said. “I play my game.”

Torre acknowledged the anticipation of facing the Giants and the chance to gain some separation in the NL West might have been a “distraction” for the Dodgers during the series with the Braves.

“These last two days we’ve been totally different than we were over the past week,” Torre said before Wednesday’s series finale. “So far we’ve stood up well. The out-of-division stuff you don’t know because you haven’t seen these guys all year. You always say, ‘Don’t look at the scoreboard,’ but we’re always aware how the division is going.”


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