"Soriano has been so good all year," said Braves reliever Peter Moylan, who had produced clutch inning-ending strikeouts in the seventh and eighth innings. "You just don't expect to see it. It's more of a shock than anything else. You're obviously not happy that you lost. But you are also shocked that he actually gave up a run."
Actually, some of the shocking effect was minimized by the reality that just nine days earlier, Soriano had felt the sting of Marlins outfielder Ross Gload's walk-off homer. But entering Thursday's series opener, the Braves closer had seemingly regained his dominance by retiring nine of the previous 11 batters he'd faced.
Looking to preserve a two-run lead and allow Derek Lowe the opportunity to beat his former Dodgers teammates for the second time in five days, Soriano saw his ninth inning unravel when Juan Pierre's jam shot proved unplayable for Chipper Jones, who was attempting to make a barehand grab before throwing to first base.
With Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche holding Pierre at first base, Rafael Furcal then chopped a single to right field to put runners at the corners and set the stage for Ethier, who drilled a 2-0 fastball over the right-center-field wall to give the Dodgers their Major League-best 11th walk-off victory.
"I think what makes it a little bit easier for me is that I've done that," said Lowe, who served as the Red Sox closer during the early portion of this decade. "I blew many a game during my days in Boston. Nobody feels worse than Soriano. Any time anything happens to where your team is walking off the field, you feel the worst."
When asked about his assessment of the ninth inning, Braves manager Bobby Cox said, "It was just two really cheap hits. You can't get away from that."
While the speedsters might have provided the cheapies, Ethier produced the fatal blow that soured a second consecutive three-hit performance by Jones and served as the clutch hit the Dodgers hadn't been able to produce against Moylan during the previous two innings.
This was nothing new for Ethier, who leads the Majors with eight walk-off hits -- five this year -- since the start of the 2008 season.
"Having played here, I know that they're extremely good at home," Lowe said. "I don't know how many comeback wins we had. But it seems like we did it quite often. So they're never quite out of it."
Pitching in Los Angeles for the first time since ending his four-year relationship with the Dodgers this offseason, Lowe allowed two runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. The two runners that were on base when he exited were left stranded when Moylan ended the seventh inning by getting Manny Ramirez to swing through a third strike.
After surrendering a leadoff double, Moylan ended the eighth with runners at second and third with a strikeout of Matt Kemp. But the Dodgers, who had lost seven of their previous 11 games, proved resilient once again with a ninth inning that nullified the four runs surrendered by Randy Wolf, who has posted a 7.03 ERA in his past 11 starts against the Braves.
"We really have been anything but consistent here in the last week or so," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "But the thing that is satisfying is that we go out there and bust it every night."
Instead of moving to within 4 1/2 games of the lead in the National League Wild Card chase, the Braves were forced to forget about Jones' seventh-inning homer and think more about the fact that they'd scored just once after loading the bases with one out against Wolf in the fourth inning.
The consecutive two-out singles delivered by Matt Diaz and LaRoche in the second inning seemed like a distant memory when Soriano yet again proved to be human and not the same dominant pitcher that had allowed just one other homer in his previous 33 innings.
"I didn't have my good stuff that I've had all year," Soriano said. "I missed with a lot of pitches and I had some bad luck."