The Dodgers finally popped the champagne corks on their National League West title Friday. And not a moment too soon for manager Dave Roberts, who has looked like a man in need of a stiff drink for a couple of weeks now.
Roberts' team is limping toward the postseason with a battered bullpen, a couple of banged-up players in the middle of his batting order and the league's worst record in September. But the mood after the clinching 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium was anything but subdued, with the jubilant Dodgers bouncing in celebration at the center of the diamond, then drenching their clubhouse — and one another — in their locker room.
The Dodgers have been here before, of course. This year's division title is their fifth in as many seasons and their seventh since 2008. No other team has won as many over that span.
But none of those titles led to a World Series appearance, so the real challenge for Roberts' team was beginning at about the same time the team was bouncing on the field.
"You have to celebrate every accomplishment. But it's World Series or bust," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said.
Added pitcher Alex Wood: "We have one goal. And this is a steppingstone to that."
The last time the Dodgers followed those stones to a World Series win, in 1988, four of the players in Friday's starting lineup — including Cody Bellinger, whose tiebreaking home run in the third inning set an NL record — hadn't even been born.
Before the game, the Dodgers and the announced crowd of 51,159 held a birthday celebration for the team's last World Series manager; Tommy Lasorda is now 90.
The Giants had a 1-0 lead before the candles on Lasorda's cake had gone out, with leadoff hitter Gorkys Hernandez bunting for a single, stealing second and scoring on Buster Posey's one-out single to center.
The Dodgers got that run back in the third when Logan Forsythe doubled with one out. One pitch later pitcher Rich Hill drove Forsythe in with an opposite-field double, his first extra-base hit since 2007.
Chris Taylor reached on a fielder's choice and Corey Seager walked, then Bellinger broke the tie with a mammoth three-run shot to right field, his 39th homer of the year. The blast also broke a tie in the record book with Wally Berger and Frank Robinson for home runs by an NL rookie.
Hill (11-8) wobbled a bit with the lead, but a double play got him out of a jam in the fourth and after six innings he turned a three-run advantage over to his relievers.
Tony Watson, Josh Fields and Kenley Jansen took it from there, with Jansen allowing a solo home run to Pablo Sandoval to start the ninth before striking out the next three hitters.
"This part never gets old," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, goggles on his head and a beer in his hand, said as he surveyed the celebration. "You work all year and this is what you work for.
"But we haven't gone all the way. That's what we're searching for. We have to win the World Series."
Roberts said the next goal is to finish with the best regular-season record, guaranteeing them home-field advantage through the postseason.
The Dodgers are two games better than the Cleveland Indians with eight games to play.
"We've had a great season," said Roberts who, as a player, had a key role in helping the Boston Red Sox break an 86-year World Series drought in 2004. "We still have a good opportunity to get some momentum going in the postseason."
But, he added, "We have a lot of work to do. This is only the beginning."