Russell Martin and Andre Ethier are more than rookie-of-the-year candidates, more than young stars who shine even when other Dodgers sag, more even than key contributors in a 7-5 victory over the Washington Nationals on Saturday at Dodger Stadium.
They are pals who shop together.
They stood not more than 10 feet from one another in the clubhouse, offering postgame analysis only after slipping on impossibly hip Ed Hardy vintage tattoo T-shirts with designs by Christian Audigier that they’d picked up on Melrose Avenue.
Admirably, they haven’t let trendy fashion interfere with their jobs.
Martin hit a two-run home run in a four-run first inning and doubled in two more runs in the three-run fifth to raise his batting average to .298.
Ethier, the leading hitter among National League rookies at .347, drove in his 39th run with a sacrifice fly in the first and singled and scored in the fifth.
Wasn’t it less than three months ago they were in the minor leagues, renting a small Las Vegas apartment and pinching pennies for meals?
“My wife would drive us to the ballpark and drop us off,” Ethier said. “Russ and I would pretend to have arguments and make sarcastic comments to each other just to make her mad. It was fun.”
Another member of the Vegas brat pack was called up by the Dodgers on Saturday. First baseman James Loney, who had the sixth-highest batting average in the minor leagues at .372, was needed because infielder Wilson Betemit hadn’t arrived from Atlanta in time for the game. Betemit had been acquired from the Braves for reliever Danys Baez and infielder Willy Aybar a day earlier.
There is a chance, however, that Loney will stay with the Dodgers. He said the clubhouse manager told him to pack enough clothes for the trip next week to Cincinnati and Florida.
The Dodgers could open a roster spot for Loney by making another trade before Monday’s deadline.
Outfielder Ricky Ledee was rumored to be headed to the Cleveland Indians or New York Yankees. Outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. could be on his way out. And closer Takashi Saito rather mysteriously went unused in a save situation.
Jonathan Broxton, another productive rookie with tremendous potential, earned his first save, striking out two and giving up a single in the ninth. Saito is eight for eight in save opportunities but was ineffective in several non-save situations, including his most recent appearance Wednesday against the San Diego Padres.
Manager Grady Little said Saito “overloaded a circuit.” Saito said he had no arm problems but admitted he’d been tired. The 36-year-old rookie from Japan has 65 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings and opponents are batting .184 against him.
Broxton, touted as the Dodgers’ closer of the future, throws 97 mph and has 58 strikeouts in 46 innings. Could the future be now?
“I’ve been preparing for that role but not thinking about it too much,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me whether I pitch the seventh, eighth or ninth. I just try to get the outs and have fun doing it.”
Elmer Dessens, acquired from the Kansas City Royals a few days ago, held the Nationals scoreless for 2 1/3 innings, pitching out of a sixth-inning bases-loaded jam created by reliever Joe Beimel and sailing through the seventh and eighth.
Derek Lowe (8-7) lasted five innings after throwing 90 pitches in the first three and ended a four-game losing streak. He gave up a two-run homer to Nick Johnson in the first and two more runs in the second, but retired the last seven batters he faced.
The Dodgers, still last in the NL West and six games behind division-leading San Diego, bailed him out by snapping a 4-4 tie with three runs in the fifth, the second day in a row their bats showed life. Their 1-13 skid finally seemed behind them.
“We’ve got a lot of ground to make up,” Martin said. “This was a good day, and we’ll try to build on it.”