Ethier ‘honors the game.’ For once, it returns the favor
CHICAGO (AP) — Andre Ethier put his teammates on notice before the first pitch of the playoffs: win the World Series or watch one of the best seasons in Dodgers history go down as a bust.
Then he put his bat where his mouth was.
In his first start of the postseason, the longest-tenured Dodger drove a sinker from Chicago Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks to right field for a home run, stealing back the momentum early and tying the game. Los Angeles went on to a 6-1 victory Tuesday night and took a 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.
Considering Ethier’s long and distinguished service with the organization, coupled with the fact that the 35-year-old spent most of the last two seasons recovering from injuries, it’s hard to say who that big at-bat pleased most.
“It’s been a battle to get back,” Ethier said. “For a team this successful to have so many options and go out there and be part of the nine, it’s a big honor that Doc (manager Dave Roberts) would trust me.”
Ethier’s leadership has manifested in different ways through the years, first in a starring role as a slugging outfielder — highlighted by back-to-back All-Star selections in 2010-11 — and later as an aging veteran ceding his starting spot to make room for rising young star Yasiel Puig.
Because of the Dodgers’ talent and depth, Ethier’s status as an everyday player has been an on-and-off proposition since 2015. But he’s retained a presence on the team out of proportion to his playing time for a variety of reasons: the grace he showed helping groom some of his replacements; arriving early at the ballpark to take photos and sign autographs for fans; and most especially, perhaps, for showing the same preparation and work ethic in rehabbing injuries the last two seasons that he did when he was at the top of his game.
“Very, very happy for him,” Roberts said afterward. “The game honors you, and a guy like Andre, who has done it the right way for such a long time ... for him to come through and perform and pick us up the way he did is no surprise.
“It’s just a credit to his professionalism,” he added.
Ethier joined the organization in 2005 and has been with the club for five trips to the NLCS. He’s logged 45 career playoff games, tied with Steve Garvey and Davey Lopes for second-most in Dodgers history. Bill Russell holds the team record with 49 postseason games.
But behind that longevity is a still-smoldering desire to win it all, something Los Angeles hasn’t done since 1988. Ethier said last month, “No one is going to remember in five years that this team won 104 games (in the regular season if it) didn’t win the World Series.”
After he helped put the Dodgers one win from advancing to baseball’s biggest stage, Ethier had no problem reminding his teammates of the urgency they’ll still need to summon.
“I think that’s something we try to pass on to some of the younger guys: ‘Don’t take these opportunities for granted. ... You can’t get complacent, and think year after year, this is going to be a thing,’” he said.
“Maybe it will,” Ethier added with a smile, “but history says there’s going to be an expiration date.”
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