Torrid Ethier leads Dodgers rally
Outfielder drives in four runs; LA takes 2 1/2-game lead in West
SAN DIEGO -- He's carrying the Dodgers.
No, not Manny Ramirez.
"He's so hot," Ramirez said of Ethier, and who would know about hot better than Manny?
On a Tuesday night when Ramirez began a Dodgers comeback with a solo home run that made him 17th on the all-time list, then drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly, Ethier topped him by driving in four runs with a triple and bases-loaded double in the Dodgers' 6-2 win over the last-place Padres.
Coupled with Arizona's loss to the Giants, the Dodgers extended their division lead to a season-high 2 1/2 games with 17 to play, having won nine of the past 10. The win also eased concerns that this trip would start like the last one, with a losing streak.
"The shadow of the last trip was hovering over our heads, about what can happen," Ethier said. "We control things now."
Hiroki Kuroda, unhappy with his breaking ball and sinker, nonetheless battled through six innings, stranding runners in scoring position in four of them.
"A heck of an outing," manager Joe Torre said. "He kept it right there and gave us an opportunity to do our thing."
Whatever thing Ethier's been doing, the Dodgers don't want him to stop. Batting ahead of Ramirez in the No. 2 slot for 12 games, he's hitting .500 with eight doubles, two triples, 14 RBIs, nine walks and 15 runs scored.
"I've got a spot in the lineup and I know what I have to do," Ethier said. "It's not only Manny's production, but the confidence you have with the knowledge he's behind you."
After being shut out Monday night, the Dodgers were scoreless through five against rookie left-hander Wade LeBlanc, using a lineup that included Andruw Jones and Nomar Garciaparra replacing Matt Kemp and James Loney.
Then Ramirez sent a screaming liner into the first row of the left-field bleachers leading off the sixth inning, his 522nd home run, breaking a tie with Ted Williams, Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas. Jimmie Foxx is next at 534.
Those are the numbers that will get him into the Hall of Fame. His numbers that have helped get the Dodgers into first place: .395 average, 12 homers, 36 RBIs in 37 games since being acquired from Boston.
Russell Martin led off the eighth inning with a double. Ethier was next, but Torre said the Dodgers were looking for more than just moving the runner over with a grounder to the right side.
"He uses the whole field, so [third-base coach Larry] Bowa told him he didn't want him to just move the guy over," Torre said. "He's so good going to left field. We wanted three shots at knocking in that run."
They needed only one as Ethier drove a high fastball the opposite way. Left fielder Chase Headley missed the ball in the corner and Ethier had the triple that eluded him in a cycle attempt last week, bringing home Martin with the tying run. Ramirez followed with a sacrifice fly that put the Dodgers ahead.
In the ninth, Blake DeWitt singled with one out, Matt Kemp singled with two out and Martin walked to load the bases for Ethier, who this time pulled a fastball just inside the first-base line for a bases-clearing double.
"His at-bats are of such high quality," Torre said. "Early in the year, he'd get behind in the count and wasn't too selective."
Torre said Ethier has demonstrated an evolving maturity as the season has progressed.
"You see a guy who lets go of the bad stuff," he said. "He used to manifest in himself, but now he knows he'll get another shot. Manny has helped him with that, he's helped a lot of kids. It's more than the fact that he's in the middle of the lineup.
"In Spring Training, Ethier would get so frustrated, it would affect his next at-bat, and he started expecting bad things to happen. Now he knows, if this one doesn't go so well, he'll be back in a few innings."
The return of Jones after a six-week hiatus to rehab his knee didn't go as well. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, he hit no balls out of the infield and, after reaching base on a fielder's-choice grounder, was thrown out trying to advance to second on a pitch in the dirt. He did, however, make a diving catch on pinch-hitter Drew Macias' sinking liner.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.