The Dodgers did not win a game Tuesday as much as they simply exhaled. Clayton Kershaw pitched and the Dodgers won and, yeah, that’s a start. That’s also the closest thing to a given that the Dodgers have.
They still have not won a game Kershaw did not start since Aug. 25. They still have lost 16 of 18 games.
They should have thrown themselves a party.
No, really. The Dodgers clinched a postseason spot Tuesday. They could have really use some joy in their baseball lives, the kind of celebration that involves popping champagne bottles and pouring beer atop one another.
For a team that was hailed as perhaps the best team ever, as recently as three weeks ago, clinching at least a wild-card spot might be cause for a shrug, not a celebration. But, hey, 20 out of the 30 major league teams do not advance even that far.
After three weeks of loss after loss after loss, the Dodgers could have used a party to remind themselves of how good they are.
“We know how good we are,” pitcher Rich Hill said.
When a World Series is expected and a fifth consecutive division championship is assumed, a guarantee of a wild-card berth simply checks a box on the road to the success.
“It’s not about the instant gratification,” Hill said. “It’s about the delayed gratification.”
The Dodgers did not even spend a moment to recognize their accomplishment, because they did not know about it.
“To say that we clinched a postseason berth and we’re going to celebrate it?” Manager Dave Roberts said before the game. “I think there will be some acknowledgment. We’ll celebrate winning a baseball game more, and backing that up with another good baseball game.”
The Brewers won. The Cubs won. Then, during the evening, the league office said the computer had considered even more permutations and the Dodgers would clinch if they won.
The Dodgers won. There was no acknowledgment, because Roberts did not know the Dodgers had clinched until a reporter told him.
“We’re in the postseason? Really?” Roberts said. “That’s great.”
The Dodgers would party when they win the National League West championship. Their magic number is eight.
The division title might be a few days away. But, after the adventures of the last three weeks, it might not. Why not celebrate a wild card too?
“No champagne,” closer Kenley Jansen said after the game.
He had explained why before the game.
“Everybody is going to go through a tough stretch,” he said. “We are going through one right now, finally. It’s just part of baseball. What are you going to do, panic? Say we can’t play any more? No. We are going to get out of it. When we get out of it, everybody is going to have to watch out again.
“I don’t care how good the Indians are playing. I don’t care how good the Nationals are playing. We are still the best team in baseball.”
Still, a wild-card celebration could have allowed the Dodgers to let their collective hair down, take a deep breath and take away some of the pressure.
“I don’t really see us as putting pressure on ourselves,” infielder Chase Utley said before the game. “Obviously, we haven’t won, so you can analyze a lot of different things, but as far as putting pressure on ourselves, I don’t see that.”
How about a party anyway, with three cheers for a playoff team?
“It’s a thought,” Utley said dryly.
He did not consider the thought much longer.
Kershaw, like Roberts, said he had not known the Dodgers had clinched until a reporter told him.
“I have a feeling,” Kershaw said, “we’re probably not going to be celebrating this one.”
Even the division clincher might not turn Kershaw into a wild and crazy guy. The best record in baseball still will be up for grabs, and Kershaw was not shy in explaining why the Dodgers needed to secure that.
“We want home field,” he said, “throughout the World Series.”
Cheers to that.