Ethier, Ellis say “Start Spreading The News”: Dodgers 3, Yankees 2

Andre Ethier scores the winning run against the New York Yankees on Tuesday night. The veteran outfielder continues his solid play since the June 11th brawl against the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Image source: Los Angeles Times at http://www.trbimg.com/img-51f8a70f/turbine/lat-dodgers-la0010679225-20130730/600)

It’s hard to say exactly when Andre Ethier turned the corner.  It might have been, definitively, during the game on June 11th when Yasiel Puig got knocked down by Diamondbacks pitcher Ian Kennedy and Ethier, taking offense, followed it up by hitting a ball over the right field wall, his own personal retaliation.  It was definitely some time between the time Don Mattingly benched him in Milwaukee and that June 11th game.

Some would argue that the Dodgers bringing up Yasiel Puig wound up bringing out the best in Ethier, that Puig’s youthful enthusiasm and reckless abandon inspired Ethier to drop the attitude and start taking baseball as a personal passion of his own again.  Faced with mounting criticism, Ethier went from sullen and outspoken to the perfect teammate.  He’s played every outfield position.  He’s come in as a defensive replacement in the late innings, always with a smile on his face like he’s just grateful to have a chance to get into the ballgame and contribute.  He’s let go of the scowl and bad attitude that seemed to loom over him the first two months of the season.  And it’s as if he finally has heard Don Mattingly’s talk about how he “gives away” 100 at-bats over the course of a season, focusing in at the plate, being the type of hitter that the fans have always known Andre Ethier to be.

One of “the kids” when the Dodgers called him up in 2006, he’s now the longest-tenured member of the team.  Puig is “the kid” now.  In a season that for so long looked lost, even with Puig’s enthusiasm and even with the emergence of Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers needed a leader.  Matt Kemp’s body has been unable to hold up.  So it became the job of the man known as “Captain Clutch” to unofficially take the role of “The Captain.”

Andre Ethier truly has become, in many senses, the captain of the team.  His ninth inning performance proved it.  He got a pitch from Yankees reliever Shawn Kelly that broke a little bit outside.  Instead of trying to power it, Ethier moved with the pitch, slapping the ball into left field for a one out base hit.  Then with two outs, Ethier took a page out of Puig’s book and picked Kelly’s pocket, breaking for second base on an 0-1 pitch.  Not known for his base running prowess, Ethier seemed to get the sense that he needed to get into scoring position, and the time was then.  Yankees catcher Chris Stewart got caught off-guard.  A good throw might have gotten Ethier, but Stewart hurried his throw and pulled his arm ever-so-slightly. The throw was wide to the right side of the bag, and Robinson Cano couldn’t get a clean handle on it.

Ethier’s move paid off just a few pitches later, when Mark Ellis took an 82 MPH slider from Kelly, got the bat out on it, and laced it over shortstop Derek Jeter’s head.  Ethier, running  on contact with two outs, scored easily and the Dodgers won on the hustle of their captain and the timely hitting of another one of their solid veteran players.

The players sprinted onto the field as Ethier scored.  Ethier, no longer sullen, all smiles, actually lept into the air whooping and hollaring as he ran to greet his teammates and pummel Ellis in celebration of his walk-off hit.  52,000-plus echoed his excitement behind him as the Dodger Stadium crowd took on a life of its own, an energy worthy of a playoff atmosphere.  For a moment, we caught a glimpse of “The Kid” again, and we were all young in that moment.  But everything leading up to that moment is why Andre Ethier is now better-suited to be called “The Captain.”

As for the game itself, it was quite the affair.  The appearances of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter at Dodger Stadium were highly celebrated, and of course the storied rivalry brought a certain energy to the crowd.

The Dodgers drew first blood in the bottom of the first inning.  Yasiel Puig crushed an offering from Yankees pitcher Andy Pettite high off the center field wall that missed going out for a home run by a matter of maybe two feet, winding up on second base with a double.  Puig took third on a flyout by Adrian Gonzalez, then Hanley Ramirez smacked a double to bring home Puig for a 1-0 Dodger lead.

The lead would be short-lived, however, when Lyle Overbay took a Zack Greinke pitch and hammered it over the wall in right field, tying the score at one.

Juan Uribe would get in on the scoring act in the bottom of the 2nd.  With one out, Uribe got an 83 MPH slider on an 0-2 count and hit an absolute shot down the left field line.  The ball stayed just to the right of the foul pole and landed in the Loge Level for a solo home run, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.

The Yankees came right back from this blow by generating a run in the top of the 4th.  Recent acquisition Alfonso Soriano, back in New York after several seasons with the Chicago Cubs, led off with a double.  A wild pitch by Zack Greinke moved him to third, and a Lyle Overbay groundout to shortstop Hanley Ramirez brought him home and the Yankees had tied the score at 2.

The starting pitchers both settled in from there and had stellar nights.  For the Yankees, Andy Pettite went 7 innings, giving up two runs on eight hits while striking out three and showing why even at age 41 he has been one of the better pitchers in the game over the past two decades and continues to be a big game starting pitcher for the Yankees, looking every bit like a pitcher with over 250 career wins.  On the Dodgers side of things, Zack Greinke was maybe even a little better than Pettite overall, certainly his equal, going 7 innings of his own while giving up two runs on five hits while striking out seven batters.  Neither starter factored into the decision.

The decisive blow came in the ninth.  To briefly recap it, with one out Andre Ethier laced a single to left field.  Juan Uribe battled for several pitches, but swung and missed at a Shawn Kelly fastball.  Then Ethier stole second and Mark Ellis worked the count full before reaching out and punching the ball into left-center field to score Ethier and give the Dodgers a 3-2 walkoff win.

The winning pitcher in this one was Dodger closer Kenley Jansen, called upon to pitch the top of the ninth in a tie game, his record improves to 4-3.  Shawn Kelly takes the loss for the Yankees, his record falling to 3-1.

On an historical note, the Dodgers have won 10 of their first 11 games after the All Star Break for the first time in franchise history.  The team currently sits at 57-48, and with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ loss to the Tampa Bay Rays last night, they are now 3 1/2 games ahead of the second place Diamondbacks.  Over the past 33 games, the Dodgers are 27-6 and during that time have gained 13 games on the Diamondbacks and 16 1/2 games on the last place San Francisco Giants.

The second game of the brief two game series is tonight at Dodger Stadium, a 7:10 p.m. start time, and it promises to be a dandy.  Clayton Kershaw (10-6, 1.96 ERA) takes on Hiroki Kuroda (10-6, 2.51 ERA) in a matchup between the clubs’ two aces.  The Dodgers have taken two out of three and look to take the 4 game season series from the Yankees, while the Yankees look to come away with a split.

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