Ethier still has finishing touch


Andre Ethier did it again -- on a night when it felt as if disaster was lurking around the corner.

Ethier's third walk-off home run of the year lifted the Dodgers to a 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday at Dodger Stadium, preventing the San Francisco Giants from moving to within 5 1/2 games of them in the National League West.

The last time the Dodgers led by so few games was May 14.

The Dodgers have rarely felt that kind of discomfort this season.

The elation produced by Ethier's late-game heroics?

Well, that's another story.

The walk-off hit was a major league-leading fifth for Ethier, who slammed a 2-0 pitch from Rafael Soriano over the wall in right-center for a three-run home run that erased a 4-2 deficit.

The sensation might have been familiar, but didn't feel old.

"You don't believe it at first," Ethier said. "You see the ball go out and do a double-take, like, 'Did that just happen?' "

Ethier, who came up after an infield single by Juan Pierre and a hit-and-run single by Rafael Furcal, credited the man behind him in the lineup with an assist.

"Sometimes you have a tendency to over-attack, but when you're ahead 2-0 and Manny's on deck, they have to bring it to you," he said.

Manny Ramirez or no Manny Ramirez, Manager Joe Torre applauded the way Ethier approached the at-bat.

"He's been incredible in that situation," Torre said. "That's incredible to have that kind of calm. It's very, very special."

The night looked like it would be a special one for Braves starter Derek Lowe, who returned to the ballpark he called home over the last four seasons.

Limiting the Dodgers to two runs and eight hits over 6 1/3 innings, Lowe appeared to be on his way to earning his second decision over his former team in five days.

After Lowe came out, Ramirez came up with two on and two out in the seventh and struck out on a slider by Peter Moylan.

But Ramirez, who ended a 13-day homerless drought on Tuesday, provided signs that he could be on the verge of hitting his way out of his slump.

He singled in his first two at-bats and drove in the Dodgers' first run of the game in the third inning, cutting their deficit to 2-1.

The Braves extended the margin back to two runs in the fourth inning, when Dodgers starter Randy Wolf walked Nate McLouth with two out and the bases loaded.

The Dodgers responded in the bottom of the inning, as Pierre drove in Orlando Hudson with a sacrifice fly to pull them to within 3-2.

Chipper Jones took Wolf deep in the seventh inning to give Lowe and the Braves some breathing room.

Lowe never made it out of the seventh. A one-out single by Furcal put men on first and second, ending Lowe's night.

Replacing him was left-hander Eric O'Flaherty, who almost served up a go-ahead home run to Ethier. The blast fell short of the wall in left-center and was caught by McLouth at the warning track.

Moylan then fanned Ramirez. He also struck out Matt Kemp to end a threat in the eighth.

The comeback resulted in the 13th no-decision of the season for Wolf, who was charged with four runs and nine hits in seven innings.

He struck out four and walked three.


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