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Not too late for Dodgers

Times Staff Writer

Andre Ethier comes to the ballpark these days not knowing whether he will be asked to start the game or come off the bench to pinch-hit in the late innings. Some nights he might not play at all.

Two years ago -- well, two months ago -- the Dodgers outfielder might have complained about the uncertainty surrounding his role. Now he seems to embrace it.

“It’s staying in the moment, staying in the situation and realizing what we’re trying to accomplish,” Ethier said, alluding to his team’s playoff push.

Ethier produced a memorable moment in the ninth inning Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, singling to left-center field to drive in Russell Martin from second base with the winning run in the Dodgers’ 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

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Martin slid home just ahead of the tag from catcher Chris Coste, setting off a jubilant scene in the infield. Ethier repeatedly pumped his fist and then discarded his batting helmet after rounding second base before engaging in a leaping embrace with Matt Kemp.

“Any time the team relies on you to execute in a situation like that and you get the job done, it’s fun,” said Ethier, whose hit allowed the Dodgers to remain one game behind Arizona in the National League West.

Two days after Manager Joe Torre called Ethier one of his regulars in the outfield alongside Manny Ramirez and Kemp, Ethier found himself on the bench to begin Tuesday’s game.

He entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning and grounded out. He stepped to the plate in the ninth with the potential winning run on second base and one out. Martin had reached second after being hit with reliever J.C. Romero’s first pitch and moving up on James Loney’s groundout.

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Ethier fouled off a couple of pitches from Romero (4-4) before connecting on his 1-and-2 offering.

“I was trying to get something over the plate I could handle,” Ethier said. “I kept fouling the pitches off and finally he left the right one over the plate where I could do that.”

Ramirez had energized the crowd during two previous rallies in which the Dodgers wiped out a two-run deficit.

He was hit by a pitch in the eighth inning, loading the bases before Casey Blake drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly. In the sixth inning, Ramirez drove in a run with a single that pulled the Dodgers to within 3-2. Blake singled home the Dodgers’ first run in the first inning.

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Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw registered a career-high eight strikeouts in six innings but was nicked for one run in each of the first three innings. Relievers Joe Beimel and Hong-Chih Kuo (4-2) combined for three scoreless innings.

Torre’s outfield has resembled Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates since Ramirez joined the team last month because you never know what kind of alignment you’re going to get. The manager said he started Pierre instead of Ethier on Tuesday because Pierre “just needs to get a game in” after being out of the lineup the previous four games.

There was a time not so long ago when Ethier, whose 11 homers tie him for second on the team and whose 48 runs batted in rank fifth, might have griped about being benched. Not now.

“I come to the ballpark every day ready to play, ready to start, willing to do whatever the team needs,” Ethier said. “You’ve got to earn a lot in this game, earn your spot and your chances.”

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Said Torre: “I think he just made up his mind he was going to accept whatever role he has and stop beating himself up.”

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ben.bolch@latimes.com


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