LOS ANGELES--Of Andre Ethier's nine seasons in the major leagues, this has probably been the most difficult.
On most nights, Ethier watches from the bench as Carl Crawford or Scott Van Slyke start instead of him in left field.
Ethier was offered a rare moment to celebrate on Tuesday night, as his weakly-hit grounder in the ninth inning resulted in a throwing error that allowed Juan Uribe to score the winning run in the Dodgers' 5-4, walk-off victory over the Angels at Dodger Stadium.
"It's not the prettiest of ways to win, but it counts all the same," Ethier said.
Ethier has started only once in the Dodgers' last 12 games. He is batting a career-low .241 and has only four home runs.
But with the game tied, 4-4, and runners on the corners, Manager Don Mattingly called on him to pinch hit for setup man Brian Wilson.
"Put the ball in play," Ethier recalled thinking. "Put a quality at-bat together. You don't want to strike out."
With the Angels playing a five-man infield, Ethier hit a dribbler at third baseman David Freese, who tried to throw out Juan Uribe at the plate. The throw was wide. Uribe scored and the Dodgers exploded out the dugout to leap on Ethier.
For the Dodgers, this was as close to a must-win game as there could be in the first week of August.
They started the day with their lead over the second-place San Francisco Giants down to 1 1/2 games. They dropped three of their four previous games. Dan Haren, who lost each of his last five starts, was scheduled to pitch Wednesday in Anaheim.
The victory extended the Dodgers' edge over the Giants to 2 1/2 games.
The win was a testament to the resilience of Clayton Kershaw, who wasn't at his best.
Kershaw gave up two runs in the second inning and another in the third. The Dodgers were tied, 3-3, at that stage because of a three-run home run by Uribe in the second inning.
But Kershaw collected himself and prevented the Angels from scoring another run off him.
That set the stage for Matt Kemp to be the hero of the night.
Kemp reached base on a sixth-inning error by Freese. Kemp stole second base, forcing an errant throw by catcher Chris Iannetta. Kemp scampered to third base on the play and scored on a sacrifice fly by Van Slyke. The Dodgers moved in front, 4-3.
With the heart of the Angels lineup due up in the eighth inning and the Dodgers protecting a one-run lead, Manager Don Mattingly pinch hit for Kershaw in the bottom of the seventh.
That resulted in Brian Wilson serving up a majestic home run to Albert Pujols in the eighth inning that sailed to the back of the Dodgers bullpen and tied the game, 4-4.
Kershaw's pitch count was at 104 when Mattingly called on Carl Crawford to hit for him. Wilson came out of the bullpen with an earned-run average of 4.93.
Mattingly defended his decision to remove Kershaw. If anything, he said he considered taking him out an inning earlier.
"It wasn't really the pitch count," Mattingly said. "He was battling all night. We didn't have any doubt about taking him out there."
Dodgers beat Angels, 5-4, on pinch hit in ninth; Clayton Kershaw shaky
Dodgers 5, Angels 4
KEY MOMENT: With the game tied and runners on the corners, Andre Ethier pinch hit for Brian Wilson with one out in the ninth inning. The Angels employed a five-man infield and Ethier hit a dribbler to third baseman David Freese, who made an errant throw that allowed Juan Uribe to score the deciding run of a walk-off win for the Dodgers.
ON THE MOUND: Clayton Kershaw was uncharacteristically shaky in the early innings, as he gave up two runs in the second inning and another in the third. The first two runs were scored on a double down the right-field line by Chris Iannetta. Mike Trout doubled to left to lead off the third inning and scored when Pujols did the same. Kershaw pitched seven innings and was charged with three hits and two walks. He struck out seven. Angels starter Hector Santiago pitched 51/3 innings and was charged with four runs, three earned, and five hits. He walked three and struck out two.
AT THE PLATE: Uribe hit a three-run home run in the second inning that moved the Dodgers in front, 3-2. The Dodgers went ahead again in the sixth inning, when Matt Kemp stole second base and forced a throwing error by catcher Iannetta that allowed him to reach third base. Kemp scored on a sacrifice fly by Scott Van Slyke, giving the Dodgers' a temporary 4-3 advantage. Pujols tied the game, 4-4, with a solo home run off Brian Wilson in the eighth inning.
(c)2014 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services