Contrasting images during hit streak
Dodgers' Ethier reaches 30 games, but all around him the walls seem to be crumbling
NEW YORK -- In a scene that was to be expected considering the city, Andre Ethier faced his biggest pregame media scrum yet Friday as he chases the Los Angeles Dodgers' franchise hitting-streak record.
At one point during the impromptu session at his locker, he spoke of how the longer the streak has gone, the more his eyes have been opened to the rich history of the only team he has played for during his six major league seasons.
"Someone asked me the other day if I knew who Zack Wheat was," Ethier said, referring to the Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder of a century ago with whom Ethier came to town tied for second on the club's all-time list. "I thought he was another minor leaguer we had called up."
After the game, a 6-3 loss to the New York Mets before 35,948 at Citi Field, a game in which Ethier had three singles to extend his streak to 30 games and move to within one of Willie Davis' franchise mark from 1969, Ethier was asked how awkward all of this individual attention is at a time when these 2011 Dodgers are offering little reason to believe they will live up to the standard set by all those great Dodgers teams of the past.
"You see guys, I don't want to say hanging their heads, but disappointed," Ethier said. "This has been a tough stretch here the last seven or eight games, and I'm standing in front of [the media] on a regular basis, whether we have won or lost. There were a couple of games where I had one hit and we scored two runs, and that one hit had nothing to do with the outcome. It's tough to sit here, while you ask me some of these questions, to be too excited about [the streak]."
Honestly, the spoken response wasn't nearly as snarky as it probably comes across in writing. It was a candid, honest answer, one that was directly related to the question that was asked -- you might be surprised at how often athletes give the answers they want to give regardless of the question -- and it was delivered in a polite, professional manner.
And, it offered a perfect glimpse into what it's like to be Andre Ethier right now. He is a two-game hitting streak away from setting a new record for one of the oldest, most storied organizations in the game. All around him, though, the walls appear to be crumbling and the roof appears to be collapsing. The Dodgers (15-18) have three, and arguably four, key players on the disabled list. They have a popgun offense that appears wholly incapable of coming back from even the smallest of deficits once the game reaches the middle innings. Their bullpen is a mess, and their starting rotation has been disappointing at times.
Given all of that, Ethier's hitting streak is a pleasant diversion, but it is essentially doing nothing to fix even one item on the long list of things that are wrong with the Dodgers.
"If I had the answer, I would be shouting it out to this room right now," Ethier said.
While on the way from Manhattan to Flushing on the infamous 7 train, I received an email from one of our top-notch statistical gurus in the ESPN Stats and Information department, which he in turn had received from another ESPN colleague, pointing out that the record hitting streaks in each league were accompanied by a considerable amount of team success.
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When Joe DiMaggio was hitting safely in 56 in a row in 1941, his New York Yankees, who would go on to beat the Dodgers in that year's World Series, were an incredible 41-13-2 (yeah, the individual stats held up from games that were called with the score tied). When Pete Rose was running off a 44-game streak in 1978, his Cincinnati Reds, who would finish second to the Dodgers in the National League West, were going 28-16.
The Dodgers during Ethier's streak? Try 13-18, and going nowhere fast.
"It's just a personal thing," Ethier said of the streak. "Besides that, we have to figure out a way to get this thing going."
Ethier insists he isn't thinking about the streak at all, even when he steps into the batter's box for the first time each night -- which, as he has done fairly often during the streak, is when he ended the suspense by lining one over the head of Mets second baseman David Murphy with one out in the top of the first inning.
"I haven't lost a wink of sleep over it," he said. "I'm not thinking about it when my head hits the pillow. We need to win some ballgames."
And if they don't start winning them soon -- even if Ethier's streak goes on into infinity -- there will be plenty of lost sleep, for Ethier, for his teammates, for manager Don Mattingly and for the front office. Hitting streaks are fun to follow and to write about, but they aren't a cure for insomnia. And, as Ethier so eloquently pointed out, they aren't in any way a cure for all that is ailing the Dodgers these days.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.