Ethier drew a tiebreaking bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the seventh inning, then made a game-saving catch crashing into the right-center fence in the top of the eighth as the Dodgers edged the D-backs, 4-3.
A second effective start by Vicente Padilla was undermined when the bullpen let a 3-1 lead get away. But the Dodgers broke the tie when Ethier worked his walk on a 3-1 pitch from lefty Clay Zavada after a walk to pinch-hitter Juan Pierre, a double by Rafael Furcal and an intentional walk to Matt Kemp, who homered for the Dodgers' first run and created their third with his baserunning. Kemp has homered in his past four games.
"It's been kind of frustrating lately, my performance against left-handers," said Ethier, who came into the game batting .181 against them. "They're not throwing me too many strikes. Me and Donnie [Mattingly, hitting coach] came up with a game plan not to chase anything bad, and that's what I did. Even in that situation, they're not throwing me strikes."
With two out in the top of the eighth inning, Ethier sacrificed his body to protect the slim lead. After reliever Ramon Troncoso issued a two-out walk to Rusty Ryal, Brandon Allen tagged a 2-2 pitch into the right-center gap.
"Troncoso had to come in with a good pitch and I was expecting Allen to get a good swing, so I knew I had to get a good jump if he hit it," Ethier said. "I got aggressive, saw the ball off the bat, got a good jump and stayed with it the whole way."
Ethier reached up at full speed and grabbed the ball high against the fence as he crashed into it, bouncing off and tumbling onto the warning track as the inning ended. Ethier called it the "most meaningful," if not the best catch he's ever made.
"I half-jumped and ran through the wall at the same time," he said. "I checked my body with the wall."
Kemp said from his angle, approaching from center field, it appeared the ball would have hit the top of the fence and possibly gone out for a home run. Replays seemed to show the ball would have hit high on the fence.
Regardless, Ethier came away unscathed, which is more than can be said for Padilla. He limped out of the clubhouse with a badly bruised left calf, the result of a comebacker that went for a bases-loaded single in the first inning and the only run he allowed in his second start for the Dodgers.
Before the calf completely tightened, Padilla kept pitching until there was one out in the fifth inning, when he got the hook at 97 pitches from manager Joe Torre. Five batters later, recently promoted reliever Scott Elbert had let the 3-1 lead slip away.
The way Padilla was limping, he might not make his next start, although it wasn't clear when that would have been anyway. Hiroki Kuroda is penciled in to return from the disabled list and start in five days after pitching effectively (five innings, one unearned run) in a Minor League rehab start Tuesday night at Class A Inland Empire.
Torre hinted as much.
"Not a tough decision at this time of year; a little extra rest won't hurt people," said Torre, who has discussed a six-man rotation. "Padilla took one off the calf today and he is limping around out there, so it's nice to have an extra guy if needed."
Padilla had a rocky start, walking the first two batters to draw a visit from pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, who told Padilla he was dropping his arm angle. Padilla made the adjustment, started throwing strikes and immediately picked up five miles per hour on his fastball.
"You lose arm strength if you do something wrong mechanically," he said. "You don't realize it sometimes until somebody points it out."
Kemp now has 23 homers, four behind Ethier, and with 87 RBIs trails Ethier by one. In his past 12 games, Kemp is hitting .391 with six homers, 11 RBIs and four steals. Along with his power, Kemp showed off his speed, bunting for a single in the third, stealing second, then scoring when right fielder Justin Upton's throw to the infield hit Kemp on the knee and caromed into foul territory.
"Bunting's pretty fun," said Kemp, who decided to drop one when he saw D-backs third baseman Mark Reynolds playing deep. "That's from Uncle Maury [Wills' bunting] pit right there," referring to the former MVP and Spring Training bunting instructor.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.