Of Andre Ethier's nine seasons in the major leagues, this has probably been the most difficult.
On most nights, Ethier watches from the bench as Carl Crawford or Scott Van Slyke starts instead of him in left field.
Ethier was offered a rare moment to celebrate Tuesday night, as his weakly hit grounder in the ninth inning resulted in a throwing error that allowed Juan Uribe to score the winning run in the Dodgers' 5-4, walk-off victory over the Angels at Dodger Stadium.
"It's not the prettiest of ways to win, but it counts all the same," Ethier said.
Ethier has started only once in the Dodgers' last 12 games. He is batting a career-low .241 and has only four home runs.
But with the score tied, 4-4, and runners on the corners, Manager Don Mattingly called on him to pinch-hit for closer Kenley Jansen.
"Put the ball in play," Ethier recalled thinking. "Put a quality at-bat together. You don't want to strike out."
With the Angels playing a five-man infield, Ethier hit a dribbler at third baseman David Freese, who tried to throw out Juan Uribe at the plate. The throw was wide, catcher Chris Iannetta couldn't handle it, Uribe scored and the Dodgers exploded out of the dugout to leap on Ethier.
For the Dodgers, this was as close to a must-win game as there could be in the first week of August.
They started the day with their lead over the second-place San Francisco Giants down to 11/2 games. They dropped three of their four previous games. Dan Haren, who lost each of his last five starts, was scheduled to pitch Wednesday in Anaheim.
The victory extended the Dodgers' edge over the Giants to 21/2 games.
The win was a testament to the resilience of Clayton Kershaw, who wasn't at his best.
Kershaw gave up two runs in the second inning and another in the third. The Dodgers were tied, 3-3, at that stage because of a three-run home run by Uribe in the second inning.
But Kershaw collected himself and prevented the Angels from scoring another run off him.
That set the stage for Matt Kemp to be the star of the night.
After Kemp reached base on a sixth-inning error by Freese, he stole second base, forcing an errant throw by catcher Chris Iannetta. Kemp scampered to third base on the play and scored on a sacrifice fly by Van Slyke. The Dodgers moved in front, 4-3.
With the heart of the Angels lineup due up in the eighth inning and the Dodgers protecting a one-run lead, Manager Don Mattingly pinch-hit for Kershaw in the bottom of the seventh.
That resulted in Brian Wilson serving up a majestic home run to Albert Pujols in the eighth inning that tied the score, 4-4.
Kershaw's pitch count was at 104 when Mattingly called on Crawford to hit for him. Wilson had an earned-run average of 4.93.
Mattingly defended his decision to remove Kershaw. If anything, he said, he considered taking him out an inning earlier.
"It wasn't really the pitch count," Mattingly said. "He was battling all night. We didn't have any doubt about taking him out there."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times