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A.J. Ellis gets the big hit

The catcher had been struggling offensively since the All-Star break, but his home run in the eighth breaks a 6-6 tie with Arizona.

September 19, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez

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PHOENIX — On a team of stars, the Dodgers' hero Thursday was a former 18th-round draft choice who didn't become an everyday major leaguer until he was 31 years old.

A.J. Ellis played most of the first nine years of his professional career in the minor leagues, taking late-night bus rides from one small town to another. The tears, the self-doubt and frustration of those years all led him to hitting the most important home run of his career, a tiebreaking eighth-inning solo home run that sent the Dodgers on their way to a 7-6 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

A.J. Ellis, career minor leaguer, was now A.J. Ellis, starting catcher for the National League West champions.

"To know that I'm the starting catcher for this team and get to experience this right now, it's really emotional," Ellis said. "I feel humbled and am thankful and grateful to the organization, which stuck with me. I feel blessed to be here."

Ellis went into Thursday hitting .192 since the All-Star break.

"I wanted to contribute offensively to help this team win the division," Ellis said. "I struggled weeks and months and I needed to do more than be a defensive guy."

Ellis was three for four with a double in the clincher. He singled during a two-run sixth inning that cut the Dodgers' deficit to 6-5.

Facing reliever Josh Collmenter in the eighth inning with the score tied, 6-6, the usually patient Ellis took a new approach.

"Rare for me, I wanted to be aggressive on the first pitch," Ellis said. "Take a chance, what happens, happens."

Jansen shines

The Dodgers didn't reach the playoffs in any of Kenley Jansen's first three major league seasons.

The closer frequently talked this year about wanting to pitch in important games. He was presented with that opportunity Thursday and responded by pitching a perfect ninth inning.

"I just wanted the ball, man," Jansen said. "Today, I felt more focused. The game had more meaning."

Ellis immediately noticed a difference in Jansen's demeanor.

"Kenley was as nasty as he's been all season long," Ellis said. "The first warmup pitch he threw me hurt my hand. I was like, 'This guy means business.' He usually kind of eases into it. Kenley's kind of an energy conserver at times. He likes to pace himself. Today, from the first pitch, he was like, 'I'm going.' His laid-back attitude wasn't happening today. He was on the attack from the first pitch."

Jansen started the inning by striking out Paul Goldschmidt and Martin Prado. Aaron Hill flied out to left field for the final out.

Gonzalez out of lineup

Adrian Gonzalez was out of the lineup with a sore quadriceps, though he did enter the game in the bottom of the ninth inning as a defensive replacement at first base.

Gonzalez was removed early Tuesday night with what he described as a cramp in his leg. He felt something again after the game Wednesday night, when he was ejected.

"We don't think it's major," Manager Don Mattingly said.

Still, Mattingly acknowledged, "It's probably more than a cramp."

Short hops

Carl Crawford was also out of the lineup, as the Dodgers were facing a left-handed starting pitcher in Wade Miley. … Reliever Chris Withrow left the team to be with his wife, who is expecting their first child. … Mattingly admitted that he's been less than truthful when talking about his players' injuries. Mattingly was told he sounded like boxing promoter Bob Arum, who once said, "Yesterday, I was lying. Today, I'm telling the truth." Mattingly's response: "There you go. I like that."

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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