For almost three decades, the Dodgers waited for an October miracle.
Tuesday, it came.
Reduced to his least significant role in his 11-year career, Andre Ethier delivered what could be the most important hit for Dodgers.
“It was huge for him and it was huge for us,” third baseman Justin Turner said.
Ethier’s contribution to the Dodgers’ season-saving 6-5 victory over the Washington Nationals in Game 4 of their National League division series wasn’t as dramatic as the home runs launched by Kirk Gibson or Mike Scioscia in the championship run of 1988.
But it was nearly as unlikely.
With his team on the brink of elimination, Ethier stepped into the batter’s box on a right leg that probably remains fractured in multiple locations. Andrew Toles was on first base. There were two outs in the eighth inning. The score was tied.
If the Dodgers go on to win their first World Series in 28 years, what happened next will become part of franchise mythology: Ethier slapped a 95-mph fastball from Nationals reliever Blake Treinen to the opposite field.
If you were in Dodger Stadium, you could anticipate what would happen next. You could feel it. And it did.
Chase Utley singled to right to drive in Toles. Ethier slid into third base, immediately popped back to his feet and screamed in triumph.
Outfielder Joc Pederson said of Ethier: “The adrenaline going through his body must have been nuts.”
Enough Octobers have come and gone for Ethier to recognize the importance of what he did.
Moments like this can change a series. They can change a postseason. They can provide a team with the self belief necessary to overcome the kind of odds the Dodgers will encounter in the winner-take-all Game 5, when they will use a parade of relievers to go against Max Scherzer in Washington.
What made the moment significant was what Ethier had to endure to get there.
“All the stuff he’s gone through …” Turner said.
Ethier was sidelined for the first five-plus months of the regular season after fouling a baseball off his leg in camp. He spent the overwhelming majority of the year in his home state of Arizona, rehabilitating at the Dodgers’ spring-training facility.
He questioned whether he would return to the Dodgers this season, as every examination he underwent showed the fractures hadn’t healed.
Being home offered one positive.
“I was like a regular dad,” he said.
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner is hit by a pitch from Nationals pitcher Joe Ross in the first inning of Game 4 of the NLDS on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw throws a pitch against the Nationals in the fourth inning of Game 4.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Nationals center fielder Trea Turner misses the ball as left fielder Jayson Werth fields a single by Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner in the third inning of Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw slides into second base with a third-inning double as Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy takes the throw in Game 4 of the NLDS.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw connects for a double to lead off the third inning against Nationals pitcher Joe Ross in Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez watches his two-run home run against the Nationals in the first inning of Game 4.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez high-fives teammates after hitting a two-run homer off Nationals pitcher Joe Ross in the first inning of Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson is hit by a pitch from Nationals starter Joe Ross, scoring Justin Turner from third base in the third inning of Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson hustles around first base on his way to an run-scoring double in the fifth inning of Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw leaves the mound after getting replaced in the seventh inning with two outs and the bases loaded in Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig tries to check his swing during an at-bat in the seventh inning of Game 4.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig reacts after he’s called out on strikes by umpire Tom Hallion during the seventh inning of Game 4. Puig would stay in the game to play right field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley connects for a single to drive in teammate Josh Reddick with the eventual winning run in the eighth inning of Game 4.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers reliever Joe Blanton turns toward the Nationals bench after getting the last out in the eighth inning of Game 4.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley flips the ball pitcher Kenley Jansen (not pictured) after cutting in front of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to make the final out against the Nationals in Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Second baseman Chase Utley and Dodgers fans react after the last out was recorded against the Nationals in Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ethier drove his sons to and from school every day. He chaperoned an end-of-the-school-year pool party. He attended his first parent-teacher conference.
“I probably threw more go-routes to my 8-year-old than anything else because he was practicing being a wide receiver for his flag football team,” he said.
His teammates on the Dodgers tried to make him feel he was still part of the team by sending him occasional text messages.
In late August, he was still at the Dodgers’ spring-training facility, taking live batting practice against minor leaguers and running bases.
“It looks good in this form, but does it hold up in the major leagues?” he wondered.
Ethier was activated on Sept. 10.
He made 26 plate appearances over the last 22 regular-season games. He batted .208.
Manager Dave Roberts and the front office thought he could be useful as a left-handed pinch hitter, which resulted in his unexpected inclusion on the 25-man NLDS roster.
In the first three games of the series, he was nothing more than a decoy, sent to the on-deck circle only to never reach the batter’s box. The first time was particularly ridiculous, with Roberts making an empty threat to replace Kenley Jansen with Ethier in the ninth inning if the Nationals intentionally walked Yasiel Puig to pitch the closer.
This was a new experience for Ethier, who made two All-Star teams and used to be a middle-of-the-order hitter on teams that reached the NL Championship Series.
He said he didn’t mind.
“I don’t care which way I’m involved in it now,” he said. “I guess I’m saying that now because of the circumstances I was in this summer. You can see that opportunities are becoming less and less.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be here in L.A. all these years and have all these opportunities to play in the playoffs but come up short so many times. I’d be lying to say it wasn’t annoying. It’s not what I want to be doing. I don’t like making the playoffs and losing. I want to win.”
Because of what he did Tuesday, he has a chance.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez