04/16/07 1:49 AM ET
Dodgers win it Robinson-style
LA garners 13 hits, five steals to earn series victory
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
They beat the Padres, 9-3, turning the game into a track meet, which would have been appreciated by Robinson, a four-sport star at UCLA.
They dared to steal five bases, an eight-year team high, and if Padres starter Chris Young and his slow-motion delivery hadn't been removed in the third inning, they might have run the number of steals all the way to 42. All that was missing was a steal of home, like the one of Robinson that was captured in charcoal by artist Brett Tomko on a poster handed out to the sellout crowd.
In support of six winning innings from Randy Wolf (2-1), the Dodgers employed a fitting offense of diversity, getting three hits each from the 6-7-8 hitters -- Andre Ethier (half-Mexican), Russell Martin (African-Canadian) and Wilson Valdez (Dominican).
Ethier's breakout was especially welcome. He came into the game batting .143 with no homers or RBIs and no guarantee of a job. When it was over, his average was up almost 100 points (.231) with his first home run and first four RBIs.
"You can't think you'll be there the whole year if you keep performing poorly," said Ethier. "I've been having quality at-bats, but I haven't had much luck. Unlike last September, I'm not letting that get me down. [Coach] Manny Mota says to take each at-bat like you're 0-for-0 and forget about whatever else has happened. That's my new motto."
Having gone through a humbling collapse last year and struggling at the start this year, Ethier found the lessons learned from Robinson's ordeal as the first African-American in the Major Leagues to be helpful.
"Today was emotional," he said. "You look at what Jackie Robinson went through in his career and you see, if you have any ethnicity, that he's the reason you're here. He paved the path. It got me pumped up, and it got the team pumped up. If we had lost this one, Jackie would be rolling over in his grave."
Martin drove in two runs, scored three and had one of the stolen bases, giving him four on the season, which ties him with Juan Pierre for the team lead. The all-time franchise record for a catcher is 17 by Lew Ritter in 1904. Martin is on a pace for 54, although he said nobody should hold their breath for that to happen.
"My legs are fresh early in the season. Talk to me around the All-Star break," he said. "I've got to get my stolen bases now."
Ethier and Martin were part of a wave of young players delivering unexpected performances last year, and Valdez has taken that baton through the first two weeks of this season.
A long shot to even make the club only three weeks ago, Valdez is hitting .417 and even made his debut at third base on Sunday. It's not just his Major League debut at the position.
He'd never played the position at any level other than an inning this Spring Training, but with Wilson Betemit 1-for-2007 and Valdez raking, he got the call. He was defensively flawless on four tries and missed a home run by about an inch on a second-inning double that hit the top of the fence.
"Not too bad," was Valdez's self-review. "It was hard to see from there in the first inning, not like shortstop or second base where you're way back. But everything's OK."
The Padres weren't around when Robinson played, but they caused the Dodgers plenty of trouble last year, winning 13 of 19, so taking two of three in this series was a nice change.
Maybe it was the uniforms.
"We might keep them around a little bit," said manager Grady Little. "It was a good game. We got timely hitting and competitive pitching from Wolf, and the bullpen [Joe Beimel, Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito] did the job.
"It was a beautiful ceremony before the game, but it took a good, long time and there was a little delay at the start and I'm sure it had an affect on both pitchers. But what this did tonight was make you awfully proud to be a Dodger."
Wolf, pitching on six days rest because the rotation was juggled, said a little longer delay at the beginning of the game was something he anticipated.
"I was kind of prepared for anything and there were a lot of things going on -- the Jackie Robinson tribute, everybody wearing No. 42, I had 27 people at the game for my first start at Dodger Stadium that counted [he started a Freeway Series game]," said Wolf. "It was fun. I'm glad it's over with."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.