LOS ANGELES -- Andre Ethier wasn't even sure he'd get to hit.
After a wild pitch, the Dodgers had runners on second and third and two outs in the third inning, the moment more pivotal than most third-inning moments because of who the Dodgers had on the mound.
Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson presumably had the same numbers in front of him that had been handed out in the press box hours earlier. Ethier came into the game batting .426 off the pitcher in the game, Dan Haren.
The Nationals quite easily could have taken their chances with catcher A.J. Ellis, but -- for whatever reason -- Johnson and Haren decided to go after Ethier. It wasn't a bad pitch, a splitter away, but Haren left it up a bit and Ethier was able to make solid enough contact to knock it up the middle, despite a backhand swipe by Haren.
Such a small thing, really just a trifle. The decision, maybe not a great one. The execution, maybe just a tick off. And, voila, the Dodgers got something rare, a clutch hit, and something else rare, a win over a quality team, 2-0 on Tuesday night.
That's the beauty of having a pitcher as good as Clayton Kershaw. When he is rolling as he was Tuesday night, he slows down the game for everybody around him. Not in the way Josh Beckett slows down the game, in a literal sense, but in the way Kershaw does. It's a simpler day of work, the requisite task more well-defined.
In other words, get him a run -- maybe two -- and you can kind of feel you've done your job.
The Dodgers were well aware they hadn't been scoring when Kershaw was pitching. The 2.1 runs of support they'd gotten him was the worst average in the major leagues.
"It's not so much that we were feeling bad, but it was more annoying than anything," Ethier said.
Nothing the Dodgers do comes easily these days. Despite absolute mastery from Kershaw -- 8 2/3 innings, 11 strikeouts -- manager Don Mattingly had to grind his teeth to the roots in the ninth inning. His closer has been in an awful rut, Kershaw's pitch count was creeping into unexplored territory and a couple of Nationals hitters had sent fly balls to within a few feet of the fence.
Kershaw fought hard, but Adam LaRoche had a good at-bat, singling up the middle to deny Kershaw the complete game and deny Mattingly one day free of the fans' scorn. A big crowd on a bobblehead night booed him when he went to get Kershaw, after that career-high 132nd pitch.
Come on, what was he to do? Kershaw later said Mattingly made the right call. He was fatigued and just pounding fastball after fastball, a dangerous pattern.
"That wasn't hard," Mattingly said. "I figured the fans boo you going out to get him, but the fans for the next however many years he's here, they'll appreciate he's still going to be able to keep pitching."
Yes, hopefully they do.