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Column: Old hand Andre Ethier gets first start, and doesn’t waste opportunity

Andre Either hit his first postseason home run of the 2017 season in Game 3 of the NLDS.

Andre Ethier waited six months for this, seven months, really, if you count the end of spring training.

The monotonous therapy sessions, the periods of despondence and frustration, Ethier endured in the unlikely chance he could live the night he lived Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

In the first at-bat of his first start of this postseason, Ethier was presented with his opportunity and didn’t miss, belting a second-inning offering from Kyle Hendricks over the ivy-covered brick wall in right field. The home run silenced the home crowd and energized the Dodgers, who went on to claim a 6-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

If these are Ethier’s final couple of weeks with the Dodgers, what a final couple of weeks they will be. The Dodgers are a victory removed from their first World Series appearance in 29 years, as they lead the National League Championship Series 3-0.

“Tomorrow’s the most important game,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to close it out tomorrow.”

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Ethier didn’t want to look ahead to the World Series, but allowed himself a moment to reflect. He is 35. His contract includes an option for next season the Dodgers are expected to decline.

“It was a long road just to get back to here and get on this roster,” said Ethier, who was two for four.

He was sidelined because of a broken leg for the first five months of the regular season last year, but played well enough to earn a place on the Dodgers’ postseason roster. He homered here last year, too, in a pinch-hit appearance in Game 1 of the NLCS.

The late season made him optimistic about this year. He proved to himself he could still be productive. He prepared his body over the offseason for the upcoming six-month grind.

“I put myself back in position, health-wise, baseball-wise, where I was the previous year,” he said.

But running from the batter’s box to first base in a spring-training game, Ethier felt something in his back. He didn’t think much of it at first. But the pain didn’t subside and he went for an examination that revealed a herniated disk.

“I was in disbelief and disheartened for a while,” he said.

Rehabilitation was a slow process. His projected return date was pushed back over and over again.

The nature of the injury worsened the situation.

“When I broke my leg last summer, I could still swing, I could still throw, I could still lift weights a certain way, I could still do all these things,” he said. “I just had to stay off my leg. My back, I couldn’t do any of that stuff.”

Unable to count on Ethier returning, the Dodgers acquired another left-handed-hitting outfielder, Curtis Granderson.

Ethier knew he was a longshot to make the postseason roster when he was activated from the 60-day disabled list in September. But he played well enough over 22 games to make the Dodgers invest a roster spot on him.

“The game honors you,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And a guy like Andre, who has done it the right way for such a long time and repeatedly said he just wanted to be a part of this and to prepare every single day like he’s going to play. … When that opportunity presented itself, he was ready.”

That opportunity presented itself Tuesday.

When Ethier stepped into the batter’s box against Hendricks, the Dodgers trailed 1-0.

Ethier took a pitch. He sent the second crashing into a small video scoreboard above the wall.

“This is a tough place to play,” Ethier said. “It really is. You can just feel that energy, the stadium closing in on you.”

Ethier heard the stadium go silent.

He knew the message the home run sent to the Cubs: The Dodgers weren’t backing down. They were here to fight.

“Every time we get something, it’s how we can answer,” Ethier said.

Ethier singled in his third at-bat.

This was the same stadium where Ethier recorded his first postseason hit nine years earlier.

A couple of weeks ago, Ethier joked about how many postseason games he played without reaching a World Series. This is Ethier’s eighth time in the playoffs in 12 major league seasons.

Ethier’s message to himself will remain simple, similar to the one he told himself as he was trying to recover from the back injury that cost him most of this season.

“Just getting after it tomorrow,” Ethier said. “Get the job done.”

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez


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