09/06/08 2:28 AM ET
Ethier, Lowe carry Dodgers
LA pulls within half-game in NL West after sixth straight win
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
He could have had any number of reasons. The Dodgers' five-game win streak was on the line, there was a game to be gained in head-to-head competition with first-place Arizona, there was pregame teasing from the media and, of course, free agency in the near future.
Lowe, though, said it was all about pride, as much as anything.
"Today was a personal challenge for me," Lowe said after pitching a masterpiece, allowing two hits over eight scoreless innings in a 7-0 win that pulled the Dodgers to within a half-game of first place and back above .500.
Arizona had lined up its top three pitchers for this series and Lowe had heard enough of Dan Haren, Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson.
"Everyone was saying, 'Can the Dodgers beat their phenomenal pitchers, how are they going to beat Haren and Webb?' " he said. "Are they having a better year than me? Yes. But I came in to prove to myself I can still pitch a good game when needed. It's very fulfilling when you do it. We feel we're pretty good over here, too."
Lowe had help, mainly from Andre Ethier, who has emerged every bit the big-game hitter that Lowe has been known as a big-game pitcher. Ethier had career highs with five hits and five RBIs, homering for the third time in the past five games, his hesitant baserunning leaving him just short of a cycle for the second time in three games while batting ahead of Manny Ramirez, who didn't have a hit, RBI or run scored but was intentionally walked twice.
Russell Martin, though, scored three runs. Lowe scored one, keying a three-run second inning with a two-out walk sandwiched between doubles by Angel Berroa and Martin.
But to Lowe's point, this was about his pitching. He now has a scoreless innings streak of 19. He lowered his ERA to 3.53, best it's been since April. He was doubling up on the D-backs, having just defeated Webb Sunday in Phoenix with six scoreless innings in another blowout, although he liked this one better.
"The last time, I had a poor sinker and all I threw were curveballs," he said. "In some counts I think they were looking for breaking balls tonight because of the last game."
Meanwhile, the Dodgers were beating Haren (14-8) for the second time in a week and third time this season. He was gone after allowing five runs in four innings. Ethier said the offense owed it to Lowe.
"Derek commanded the strike zone, got ahead in the counts, pitched quick, which keeps your defense involved and let's your offense go back out in the dugout and get back on offense and get things rolling again," Ethier said.
"It's nice to go out there and score a lot of runs for him and support the efforts he's doing. We weren't there all year for him. He's pitched some quality games. You don't go 11-11 without going deep in a lot of games, and those 2-1s, those 3-2 games that we lost in the middle of the year with him leaves a bitter taste in the offense's mouth, but hopefully we'll pick him up this last month."
That would only be fair. In Lowe's 11 losses, the Dodgers scored a total of 16 runs, were shut out twice and held to one run six times. But they've scored 15 runs in these last two wins against the D-backs.
"Guys are having a little more fun now," manager Joe Torre said. "That's what a little wining streak will do for you, and there's no question that the Saturday and Sunday games that we played in Arizona after losing eight in a row, it's tough for me to fathom that we're going to face more pressure than we had in those two games. Psychologically, I think it has to help us."
Meanwhile, Lowe was again pressed to explain why he's now 11-2 in two stints as a teammate of Greg Maddux.
"There's a comfort level to him," Lowe said. "I ask him questions throughout the game. I give Rick [Honeycutt, pitching coach] credit for allowing that communication. He sees we have a rapport. I'm a ground-ball pitcher, like him. Maybe he'll follow me around the rest of my career."
Where that might be, Lowe wasn't saying. His four-year, $36 million contract runs out after this year. He said there have been no talks about an extension and he resisted speculating, saying, "You're crazy to worry about that now."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.