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Helene Elliott

Anderson Enjoys Sweet September

September 23, 2006|Helene Elliott

Marlon Anderson is involved in a playoff race and one of his bats is enshrined in Cooperstown, and he's not sure which of those facts is more wildly wonderful.

That, after beginning the season with Washington, he's playing games that matter in September and started eight games in left field after rookie Andre Ethier took his fading bat to the bench.

Or that the Hall of Fame would call and request the bat he used to slam the last of four consecutive home runs in the Dodgers' ninth-inning barrage Monday, which set up their remarkable comeback victory over the Padres.

"I love it. That's why you play the game, for times like this, when everything is on the line," he said. "You get the job done and you're right in the middle of it.

"That's always right there in your mind. When you're in your backyard playing, nobody talks about, 'This is the first inning.' It's a big game, the ninth inning, a man on base, and you're coming up in a big situation. It's being able to help your team in times like that."

Anderson is known for his pinch-hitting prowess, and he delivered Friday. Batting for starter Derek Lowe in the seventh inning, he drove in Russell Martin with the second run in a 2-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, delighting a lively crowd at Dodger Stadium.

In winning a game that was scoreless until J.D. Drew led off the seventh with a home run, Anderson helped the Dodgers remain half a game behind the Padres in the National League West and half a game ahead of the Phillies for the wild-card berth. But Anderson has helped them in many other ways since they acquired him from the Nationals for minor league pitcher Jhonny Nunez on Aug. 31.

His surprisingly lively bat -- he's nine for 20 (.450) on this homestand with three home runs and seven runs batted in -- has made him a catalyst for a team that needs every offensive spark it can manufacture. And his easy manner has promoted cohesion in the clubhouse at a tense time, when one misstep can mean missing the playoffs.

Although Anderson didn't start Friday -- Manager Grady Little said it was because Anderson hadn't faced Arizona starter Claudio Vargas and Ethier had gotten two hits off Vargas in five previous at-bats -- he played a crucial role. More than likely, he will do so again. His spirit and versatility make him ideally suited for the mix-and-match exercises Little has carried out all season while compensating for injuries and slumps.

"I like to be a sparkplug everyday, no matter where I play," said Anderson, who is batting .400 (16 for 40) in 18 games as a Dodger, with five home runs and 12 runs batted in. "I just want to bring something that you may not get from someone else."

Even Ethier, though begrudgingly, appreciates Anderson's contributions.

"He's done a good job," said Ethier, who was hitless in three at-bats Friday. "What can you expect? He's a veteran guy and he can do a lot of different things. He plays the infield, he plays the outfield and does whatever he's called to do.

"He's a guy I'm glad to have on a team like this."

Martin, who doubled in the seventh before Anderson came to bat, praised Anderson's optimistic outlook.

"Just from day one, he's had that winner's attitude," Martin said. "He's a great guy to have around the clubhouse, and he's been productive on the field too. He's got speed and he plays good defense. He's been swinging the bat well. He's had some really key at-bats. That home run [on Monday] was huge.

"I didn't know him very well before he came here. I'd seen him play a little bit. Now that I've seen him play, I'm impressed. He plays hard and gives everything he has every time he goes out there."

Little said that while "there are no secrets in the game of baseball about what a player can do," he has been pleasantly surprised by Anderson's impact.

"The biggest thing I've learned is the type of player he is, the character he has, what he brings to a clubhouse and what he brings to a ballclub," Little said, "and all of these are very positive."

Anderson said he didn't try to talk Little out of holding him in reserve Friday, citing similar respites Little had given to Nomar Garciaparra and Drew. "He's been doing a great job of managing this team all year and he knows what he wants to do," Anderson said. "I'll pitch in wherever he wants.

"As a manager you do what you have to do. I wasn't surprised. I'm open for whatever.... It's just a stretch where you have to give everybody some rest and get them prepared for that final push."

It will be an uphill push for the Dodgers, who have two home games and six road games left. Their starting rotation is still a work in progress and the bullpen maddeningly inconsistent. Garciaparra is still hobbled by a pulled quadriceps muscle, Jeff Kent is battling a pulled oblique muscle, and Ethier is still hurting at the plate.

But that's where Anderson comes in, whether as a starter or, on Friday, by providing his 15th pinch hit of the season and major league-leading 50th in the last three seasons.

"I just came here hoping to have an opportunity to help the team. I can't be surprised," he said. "I've been around this game long enough to know anything can happen."

As for the bat that was claimed by the Hall of Fame, Anderson said he handed it over the next day "because I didn't want to get attached to it and get superstitious." But with a new bat the next day he went two for four with a home run, and he proved Friday that the bat matters less than the ability and determination of the man who's swinging it.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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