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T.J. SIMERS

Dodgers' Andre Ethier tries to make talk about lefties right

When asked about his benching against a left-hander in San Diego with eight games left, Ethier appears on edge. Later he apologizes and says he just wants to win, and makes amends with two-run homer.

T.J. Simers

October 2, 2012

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There's no quit here, although I can only imagine how many folks wish I was on the verge of elimination.

Before Monday's all-important Dodger game, I go to the clubhouse to remind Andre Ethier how important he is to the team.

It's a discussion that will initially go awry before there's talk of maybe a double date later.

It's been bugging me for days that Don Mattingly benched Ethier in San Diego with eight games left. I want to know whether Ethier tore into Mattingly and demanded to play.

Would the Lakers' bench Pau Gasol while trying to earn a playoff berth because he can't hold his own against tougher big men?

We know Ethier can't hit left-handers and San Diego was pitching a left-hander.

But I expect a player of Ethier's caliber and Dodgers status to dig deeper and somehow find a way to hit a left-hander with everything on the line.

I will expect Dwight Howard to do the same when shooting free throws in a playoff game.

I expected Ethier to give Mattingly an earful.

Ethier tells me Mattingly's door was closed.

I was in San Diego but I don't recall the door being knocked off its hinges or kicked in.

Ethier says Mattingly's door was closed for two hours the day after General Manager Ned Colletti could be heard screaming in the clubhouse.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn Mattingly was wearing ear plugs while locking himself behind closed doors to avoid another Colletti outburst.

But I know the Dodgers haven't lost since they caught a whiff of Colletti's passion or just don't want to hear him scream again.

Ethier says he waits and waits and finally catches Mattingly near the batting cage. He tells Mattingly he wants to play.

That's all I want to hear. I now know he cares as much as the fans do about doing whatever it takes to win, even if it means swinging and missing against a lefty.

But then just like that the interview with Ethier spins out of control. Ethier says it's a media-made story that has the Dodgers worried about him not hitting left-handers.

I'm not the one who benched him in San Diego.

In fact I'm here telling him he's a great player and I think it is crazy the Dodgers didn't play him in San Diego and yet he's peeved at me.

I don't know why this happens. I spread joy in the clubhouse a couple weeks back and the last guy on the roster calls me names and wants to spike me into the ground.

"What's the best year I've ever had? What is it? What year did I put up my best numbers?" Ethier says. I can't even remember the name of all my relatives.

"'09, right?" says Ethier, and I remember I had a great year as well — I wasn't 60 yet.

"Thirty home runs, 103 RBI," says Ethier, and actually it was 31 home runs and 106 RBIs. "Wouldn't you say that's my best year? And that's the worse I have ever hit against lefties."

He says people should judge him on his overall contributions and most folks would be thrilled with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs.

Don't tell me; tell Mattingly.

A year ago, Mattingly was talking about maybe platooning Ethier, but then the Dodgers gave him $85 million to apparently only hit righties. Now Mattingly is talking again about making changes if Ethier doesn't improve against lefties.

"What's any of that have to do with where we stand right now?'' says an exasperated Ethier. To be technical, if Ethier had hit left-handers better, the Dodgers might be ahead of the Cardinals rather than behind them.

Ethier is on edge and in a raised voice he's talking about the media doing this and the media doing that, and the only media person talking to him is me and I was here to let him know how important he is to the Dodgers' cause, which means I think he's pretty good.

When it's Mattingly's turn to talk before the game, he says it's important players remain calm. I tell him Ethier is on edge. Mattingly says he doesn't want to talk about Ethier because it has nothing to do with Monday night's game with the Giants.

I guess he doesn't think Ethier will be a factor in the game.

Mattingly then spends his time explaining why he would take Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout as American League MVP.

Ethier finishes taking batting practice and stops by to chat some more. He says he's sorry for the interview going off track, blames himself and cracks a few jokes.

He's thoughtful and understanding, while explaining how badly he wants to help the Dodgers to win.

If only he could make such adjustments when hitting against left-handers.

"I always want to play,'' he says. "When I would get a text from Donnie during the season telling me he was giving me an off day, I would text back telling him that I wanted to play. Wait a half hour and do it again.''

He says he misunderstood what was being said earlier and all the fight in him is directed to the opposition.

He's all smiles as we talk. I tell him he's ruined the column I was going to write on our clubhouse confrontation by making nice. I sure hope Jim Mora never matures.

I tell him he needs to make amends. I suggest he do something special in Monday night's game.

So he does. Ethier hits a two-run homer, and then Mattingly pulls him in the ninth as part of a double switch so Elian Herrera can hit in the pitcher's place.

Herrera then drives in the winning run, the Dodgers are still breathing and now they must face the Giants' Barry Zito.

Zito is left-handed.

Is there any doubt who starts in right for the Dodgers?

t.j.simers@latimes.com