The outfielder has been named the 2009 Major League Baseball's Clutch Performer of the Year presented by Pepsi after a fan vote on MLB.com. The award recognizes the player who performed his best with the game on the line.
Ethier led the Major Leagues with six walk-off hits, including a big league-best four walk-off home runs. That tied the MLB record for walk-off homers in one year previously set by Jimmy Foxx of the Red Sox in 1940 and Roy Sievers of the Washington Senators in 1957.
The other finalists for Clutch Performer of the Year were Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum, Twins catcher Joe Mauer, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
The award is the culmination of a season-long campaign in which fans voted for six different Clutch Performers of the Month. The 2009 winners were Royals right-hander Zack Greinke (April), Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera (May), Lincecum (June), White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle (July), Yankees designated hitter Hideki Matsui (August) and Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer (September). Ethier was a candidate for the June award.
The nominees each month and for the season-end award were selected by a special MLB.com editorial panel.
CC Sabathia, then with Milwaukee, was the Clutch Performer of the Year winner last season.
Ethier's six walk-off hits were the most in one season for a Major Leaguer since at least 1974, one more than David Ortiz's five for Boston in 2006, Ken Hrbek's five for Minnesota in 1987 and Cory Snyder's five for Cleveland in 1987. The four walk-off homers were the most for any player in a season since at least 1974.
Ethier had three walk-off hits in June alone: June 5, a two-run double that beat Philadelphia, 4-3; June 6, his second home run of the game coming in the 12th inning of a 3-2 win over Philadelphia; and June 29, a two-run homer in the 13th inning to beat Colorado, 4-2.
But he also hit two homers against San Diego in a 6-4 win June 9; he had a two-run triple in a 6-4 win over Anaheim June 20; and his first three-homer game with six RBIs in an 8-2 win over Seattle June 26. On the month, he slugged nine of his team-high 31 homers.
"It's just about having fun and enjoying the moment," Ethier said after the June 29 walk-off. "In a situation like that, it's just about emotion and excitement. You can see the energy going into the situation and one swing can end the game. I've just been trying to learn to balance that energy."
Ethier finished the season with 31 homers, 106 RBIs, 42 doubles and 96 runs scored. He had the Dodgers' first 30-homer season since Adrian Beltre in 2004, first 40-double season since Shawn Green in 2003 and was only the fourth in franchise history to do both in the same season, joining Babe Herman in 1930, Raul Mondesi in 1997 and Eric Karros in 1999.
Ethier didn't let up in the postseason. He was 6-for-12 with two homers, a triple and two doubles in Dodgers' National League Division Series win over the Cardinals and was 5-for-19 with a homer and double against the Phillies in the NL Championship Series. He scored seven runs and drove in six total in the two series.
"He's been really clutch for the team," said pitcher Chad Billingsley. "He's had all of those game-winning hits. He's been able to rise to the occasion."
And it's hard for anyone to know how good he will get, because his home run and RBI totals have increased each season: 11-55 in 2006 to 13-64 in 2007, 20-77 in 2008 and 31-106 in 2009.
"I still think he's got some more [untapped ability] once he gets the hitting zone figured out," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre.
"Guys that are pretty good players go their whole careers without one," observed teammate Randy Wolf. "He's been the guy who's done it for us over and over again. He's set such a precedent of being that guy, it's amazing. You have to have the opportunities to do it. When he gets them, he does it."
Since the start of 2008, Ethier's nine walk-off hits lead the Majors. His 21 homers at Dodger Stadium this year were the most for a left-handed hitter in stadium history.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.