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Saturday, May 7, 2011
Andre Ethier's march of progress

By Susan Petrone


It is already being said that 2011 is The Year of the Pitcher 2.0. From Francisco Liriano we've seen one of the most unusual no-hitters you’re likely to see. We've seen shutouts and we've seen decreased scoring overall. But in the midst of all these zeroes being dealt out across both leagues, we have a hitting streak going too.

Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier immediately dispensed with any drama Friday tonight and extended his streak to 30 games in his first at-bat against the Mets. Boom. A big, beautiful single that plopped gracefully into right-center. End of story. One more game and he’ll tie Willie Davis’ franchise record of 31 consecutive games, set in 1969. Whether you’re a Dodgers fan or not, this streak is a pleasure to watch.

The word “streak” connotes speed, something that zooms by in an instant. In contrast, there is nothing fast about a hitting streak. It requires patience, pain and focus. If you look at Ethier’s numbers in his six seasons with the Dodgers. he’s already having a good career. He started out by finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting, he has a Silver Slugger Award, and was an All-Star last season. This was his 750th game in Dodger blue, and he’s already a workhorse. And like all good workhorses, he goes in and does his job day after day, at-bat after at-bat.

One of the things I liked about watching that first-inning hit is that he swung on a 3-0 pitch. I know, how many times have people told you not to swing on a 3-0 pitch? But the pitch was there, it was lovely, and he hammered it. He didn’t have to swing, but his job is to hit the ball. He saw something he liked, so he hit the ball. How many of us can say that we show up to work with that attitude every day?

As Ethier added another notch to his streak, it's important to note that this was a weird night in the major leagues. Friday reminded us baseball gives you every opportunity to succeed, but also hands you every chance to fail. We saw two almost-no-hitters taken into the final third of their games, including an almost perfect game. We saw a run at the strikeout record as well, although Charlie Manuel hooked Cliff Lee before he got really close. These bids to do something historic were all foiled. Every pitch and every hit gives someone the chance to make history. If you throw 100 or more pitches in a row, can you string together enough strikes to get 16, 18, even 21 strikeouts? If you come up to bat 550 or 600 times in a season, can you string your hits together to hit safely in 30, 40, or 56 games?

As Ethier kept his streak alive, nights like this remind us how difficult it is to play this game well and play it well consistently. Derek Lowe and Lee demonstrated just how dominant a pitcher can be, and nevertheless how quickly things can fall apart. Lowe took the no-no into the seventh inning and then, poof, it was gone. Lee kept scything through the Braves' lineup, but wound up with "just" 16 strikeouts -- enough to impress, but not enough for a record. Lee, in fact, was tagged with the loss. In St. Louis, Jaime Garcia was perfect against the Brewers through seven. Then came the eighth inning, and that bit of history was gone.

That’s how it goes. Even in The Year of the Pitcher 2.0, someone is going to get a hit off of you. In Ethier’s case, he’s gotten a hit in 30 games and counting. And just to prove that he’s no slacker, he went 3-5 Friday night. Saturday will bring more games, and more chances to do something historic. Believe me, we’ll be watching.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Cliff Lee
Giving back at the office: Cliff Lee's producing strikeouts on both sides of the ball.
Susan Petrone writes about her beloved Indians at It's Pronounced Lajaway, a proud member of the ESPN SweetSpot blog network. When she's not writing about baseball, she writes fiction, and you can follow her on Twitter.