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Ethier blossoms into prime-time player

Ethier blossoms into prime-time player

LOS ANGELES -- Barely 11 hours after his latest walk-off heroics, Andre Ethier was at his locker with reporters, the SportsCenter replay of the home-plate mob scene on the clubhouse flat screen when third-base coach Larry Bowa walked past and, without breaking stride, reminded Ethier of how fleeting fame should be.

"That game's over," Bowa said.

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Dodgers at a glance
2009 record: 95-67
2008 record: 84-78
NL West champs
NL best record
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Buy now

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Loney: Taking good swings
Kuo: Long road back
Thome: Back in Philly
Loney: Building resume
Bullpen: Led by Broxton
Torre: Rep precedes him
Blake: Chemistry guy
Kershaw: Game 1 nod?
Dodgers: Eyes on prize
Kemp: Path of the pros
Furcal: Back healthy
Kershaw: Like Koufax
Hudson: Keeping head up
Billingsley: Unknown role
Ethier: Slump over
Torre: Tough decisions
Kershaw: Elite comparisons
Kemp: Nearly elite
Kershaw: Path to the pros
Billingsley: Fate in balance
Ethier: Aims to improve
Torre: Back to playoffs
Kershaw: Ready to rock
Rotation: Plenty of options
Kemp: Chasing LA history
Bullpen: Dominant pair
Honeycutt: Pitching guru
Kemp: Tools to match talent
Ethier: Walk-off wonder
Billingsley: Vying for spot
Ethier/Kemp: Dynamic duo
Torre: Another pennant race
Pierre: Receives high praise
Kershaw: Beyond his years

Not that Ethier had to be reminded. He was one of only two players (Matt Kemp was the other) back in the lineup for a day game after a 13-inning night game, a tribute both to their essential production as well as youthful endurance deep into September.

While contributions have been spread throughout the roster, if the Dodgers have an MVP this year, it's most likely Ethier, who is putting together the kind of season that gives management fits come salary arbitration time.

It's not just the six walk-off hits, four of them home runs so dramatic they've elbowed their way onto highlight shows traditionally dominated by Yankees-Red Sox games.

Ethier has even wrestled the spotlight from Manny Ramirez -- no easy trick.

"To have one walk-off home run is unbelievable. To have four, I don't know what's going on," Ethier said. "I'm still pinching myself."

The six walk-off hits are the most in one season for a Major Leaguer since at least 1974, one more than David Ortiz's five for Boston in 2006, Kent Hrbek's five for Minnesota in 1987 and Cory Snyder's five for Cleveland in 1987. The four walk-off homers are the most for any player in a season since at least 1974.

"Guys that are pretty good players go their whole careers without one," said teammate Randy Wolf. "He's been the guy who's done it for us over and over again. He's set such a precedent of being that guy, it's amazing. You have to have the opportunities to do it. When he gets them, he does it."

Ethier is often compared by manager Joe Torre to former Yankees great Paul O'Neill for an intensity that sometimes gets in the way. Wolf believes the self-criticism also brings out the best in Ethier.

"One thing about Andre, it's an agonizing game for him," Wolf said. "The feeling he has when he fails tremendously outweighs the happiness when he succeeds. He despises failure. That's a big driving force for him. The ninth inning for him, having to sleep on it if he fails, must be terribly hard. See him when he strikes out, he's beyond frustrated."

But he's become a prime-time player. Since the start of 2008, Ethier's nine walk-off hits lead the Majors. His 30 homers are the most for a Dodger since Adrian Beltre had 48 in 2004. With two more RBIs, he'll have the first 100-RBI season for a Dodger since J.D. Drew in 2006 and the first 30/100 season for a Dodgers outfielder since Shawn Green in 2002. He's one of only four players in franchise history to hit 30 homers and 40 doubles in the same season (joining Babe Herman, Raul Mondesi and Eric Karros).

His 21 homers at Dodger Stadium this year are the most for a left-handed hitter in stadium history.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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