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Brothers Have a Bright Day Under the Sun

Willy Aybar's home run helps the Dodgers to an 8-4 Freeway Series victory over the Angels, who get two hits from Erick Aybar.

May 21, 2006|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

As Willy Aybar approached second base after belting a three-run home run, Erick Aybar turned his back from shortstop and stared into left field.

As Willy approached third, Erick couldn't help but peek over his shoulder at his brother.

For one day, the battle over a region's bragging rights was colored in bloodlines.

The Aybars, not long removed from an impoverished upbringing in the Dominican Republic, were central figures in the Dodgers' 8-4 victory over the Angels on Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

Willy, 22, made an outstanding backhand stab at third base on the first play of the game, pulled the Dodgers even with the homer in the sixth and triggered a three-run rally in the eighth with a one-out walk.

Erick, 21, made his first major league start and had his first two hits against Brett Tomko, including one that helped fuel a fourth-inning rally that extended the Angels' lead to 4-1.

The Dodgers needed a pinch-hit home run by J.D. Drew to break a 4-4 tie in the seventh inning and solid work by a trio of relievers to hand the Angels their 16th loss in 21 games.

But an intriguing subplot involved the Aybar brothers, born only 10 months apart and able to witness one another flourish on a grand stage -- one they barely dared dream of growing up in a tiny house on a sewage-infested river in Bani, Dominican Republic.

"We never thought about that, but the world does a lot of turning," Willy said. "I was very happy today."

Anyone can see they are switch-hitting infielders with nearly identical open stances, but only the Aybars know how far they have come. Willy doesn't want to talk about his childhood and Erick left the clubhouse quickly with teammate and new roommate Vladimir Guerrero.

But according to a Washington Post story in 2001, the Aybars slept in the same room as their parents and two sisters in a concrete-and-tin house choked with dust from trucks roaring down a nearby dirt road. When the river overflowed during the rainy season, water would seep into the house and the family would flee to a nearby school for shelter.

Willy and Erick learned to hit using whittled branches and dropped out of school at the urging of an amateur scout to pursue their baseball dream full time. Willy signed with the Dodgers in 2001 for $1.4 million and Erick signed with the Angels for $100,000 a year later.

Here they stood, in front of a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium, playing integral roles in a Southland grudge match.

Before the game, Tomko probed Willy on how to pitch to his brother.

"Just throw the ball past him," was all he would offer.

Tomko grinned and replied, "I can respect that. If my brother was in the big leagues, I wouldn't tell anybody how to get him out, either."

Not that they didn't try to beat one another at every opportunity. Erick thought he caught Willy napping in the eighth, laying a bunt down the third base line. Willy, however, smartly let the ball roll foul.

Nothing the Angels tried after the fourth inning succeeded. Scot Shields (1-3), the one Angels pitcher untainted by their May swoon, hung a slider that Drew drove into the right-field stands.

It was the 150th homer for Drew and his first as a pinch-hitter.

"I don't know if I could have thrown a worse pitch right there," Shields said.

It marked the second game in a row the Angels frittered away an early lead. Dallas McPherson capped a three-run first inning with his first homer on a pitch Tomko said was right where he wanted it.

Rather than succumb to frustration, Tomko battled, lasted six innings and gave the hot-hitting Dodgers a chance to come back for their 11th victory in 14 games.

Left-hander Joe Beimel (1-0) struck out three in the seventh -- and picked off Juan Rivera after he reached first on a strike-three wild pitch.

And more than watching his brother in his first major league start, the outcome was especially pleasing to Willy Aybar, who is batting .391 while filling in for the injured Bill Mueller.

"We're winning, and that's good," he said. "That's the most important thing ... the Dodgers."

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