Dodgers go on a power trip

The player who has performed the best in this pressure-packed month for the Dodgers is the only player to publicly acknowledge that that pressure even exists.

Andre Ethier continued his August tear by ripping a pair of home runs that drove in the first three runs of a 6-1 victory over the second-place Colorado Rockies, extending the Dodgers' lead in the National League West back to three games on Wednesday night at Coors Field.

Ethier's 26th and 27th homers of the season set the stage for the Dodgers' highest run output in six days, as James Loney had a three-run blast in the fourth inning that ended a 46-day homerless streak for the slumping first baseman.

Randy Wolf (9-6) did the rest, earning his fourth consecutive victory by limiting the Rockies to a run and five hits over 7 1/3 innings and handing them only their second loss in their last 10 games.

Music streamed through a Dodgers clubhouse that was silent the previous night after a defeat that reduced the margin in the standings to a mere two games.

"Every game at this point is a have-to-win," Ethier said. "In front of us was a chance to distance ourselves by another game."

Of Ethier, Manager Joe Torre said, "He's just very relaxed right now."

Ethier was three for four and is batting .383 with six home runs and 21 runs batted in this month.

This despite saying that the team's increasingly unstable place in the standings has at times caused him to try to do too much.

But the 27-year-old right fielder has had an ample amount of experience dealing with these types of situations. If anything, this one is a fairly mild case.

"That's what my career's based on," Ethier said. "Two, three years ago, I was not only fighting to help the team win but also to keep my job."

Ethier is still prone to occasional frustration, but said that understanding that a brief slump won't get him sent to the bench has done a lot to calm him.

"My playing time is more consistent," he said. "When people show more confidence and belief in you, you can be enhanced by that.

"That breeds a more relaxed and better work environment."

Hitting in front of Manny Ramirez has also helped, he said.

On July 31, Ethier went from hitting behind Ramirez to hitting in front of him.

From that day forward, he has hit .400 with seven home runs and 25 runs batted in on days he and Ramirez have started.

He has batted .591 (13 for 22) with men in scoring position over that stretch.

Ethier's victim Wednesday was Josh Fogg, who was starting his first game of the season as a replacement for the sidelined Aaron Cook.

Ethier hammered a 439-foot two-run shot to right center in the first and a 427-foot solo blast to right in the fourth.

Fogg also served up Loney's subsequent three-run shot and left the game without retiring a batter in the Dodgers' four-run fourth inning.

Ethier completed his night with a dribbler down the third base line that went in the books as an infield hit.

"It's a hit," Ethier said, smiling. "I squared up many balls this year that were hard-hit line drives that someone caught. I guess that one makes up for one or two of those."

Wolf, whose only costly misstep was a solo home run he served up to Ryan Spilborghs in the third inning, earned $500,000 in incentive pay when he recorded his first out, which let him reach the 170-inning benchmark. Wolf can earn an additional $2.5 million in performance bonuses based on innings pitched.




The NL West

On June 3, the Dodgers held a 15 1/2 -game lead over the then last-place Colorado Rockies:

*--* STANDINGS AFTER GAMES OF JUNE 3: Team W-L Pct. GB Dodgers 37-18 673 -- San Fran. 25-25 500 9 1/2 San Diego 25-28 472 11 Arizona 23-31 426 13 1/2 Colorado 20-32 385 15 1/2 STANDINGS SINCE GAMES OF JUNE 3: Team W-L Pct. GB Colorado 52-23 693 -- San Fran. 44-33 571 9 Dodgers 38-34 528 12 1/2 Arizona 32-41 438 19 San Diego 29-46 387 23 CURRENT NL WEST STANDINGS: Team W-L Pct. GB Dodgers 75-52 591 -- Colorado 72-55 567 3 San Fran. 69-58 543 6 Arizona 55-72 433 20 San Diego 54-74 422 21 1/2 *--*

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