Dodger Stadium wasn’t the only one celebrating a birthday Tuesday.
On the day the venerable ballpark turned 50, Andre Ethier was serenaded by fans in the all-you-can-eat right-field pavilion, who tilted back their beer cups in recognition of his 30th birthday.
Ethier made this a birthday and home opener to remember, launching an eighth-inning solo home run that was the difference in the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I guess if I can kiss my 20s goodbye, this is the way to do it,” he said.
With an announced crowd of 56,000 fans on their feet, Ethier took a curtain call. They crowd stood and roared again when Ethier ran out of the dugout to take his position for the top of the ninth inning.
“It was a great birthday,” Ethier said.
When it was all over, Matt Kemp was calling for the Dodgers’ new ownership group to sign Ethier to a contract extension. Ethier, who is due to make $10.95 million this year, will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
“I definitely would want him here for years to come,” said Kemp, who signed an eight-year, $160-million deal in November.
Kemp drove in the Dodgers’ first run, grounding out to short to push in Dee Gordon, who had moved into scoring position by stealing his fourth base in five games.
Clayton Kershaw, who pitched only three innings in the season opener at San Diego because of stomach flu, protected that lead until the seventh inning. Kershaw started the inning by giving up consecutive singles to Alex Presley and Andrew McCutchen. The former scored on a groundout by Matt Hague to tie the score, 1-1.
Pirates reliever Jason Grilli struck out Mark Ellis and Kemp in the eighth inning. But Grilli then had to face Ethier, who deposited the ball into the very bleachers where fans sang “Happy Birthday” to him for most of the game.
“I just told him to pick me up,” Kemp said. “I had a bad at-bat.”
Kemp has been a constant source of motivation for Ethier.
“Matty is on me every day about me and him going and doing our jobs,” Ethier said.
Kemp isn’t the only teammate who has encouraged the temperamental right fielder, who Manager Don Mattingly said wasted 100 at-bats last season because of his inability to control his emotions.
Early in spring training, Tony Gwynn Jr. approached Ethier, telling him to relax and have fun. Ellis did the same.
“I think it all started with my teammates, really,” Ethier said. “The support of them really put some ease on me.”
So did an operation last fall to repair a right knee that Ethier said drained him of his power last season, when he hit only 11 home runs.
Before then, home runs like the one he hit Tuesday were somewhat routine. In 2009, he had four walk-off home runs.
“You miss it,” Ethier said.
The gift Ethier gave himself in the eighth inning wasn’t the last he would receive this day.
Ethier was told by his wife that he had presents from his 2- and 4-year-old sons waiting for him at home.
“It’s probably not my favorite gifts but their favorite gifts,” Ethier said, smiling. “Probably string cheese and Capri Sun.”