For the first time in two decades, the Dodgers popped champagne corks in October.
With a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 3 of their National League division series Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the team that had the league’s best record in the regular season and won their first playoff series since claiming the 1988 World Series.
In front of 56,000 towel-waving fans who chanted “Sweep! Sweep!” as they counted down the final outs, the Dodgers surged into the NL Championship Series behind a two-run double in the first inning by James Loney and a four-out save by Jonathan Broxton.
“This is a great step for the organization,” said General Manager Ned Colletti, who was about to get a bottle of beer poured on his head by backup catcher Danny Ardoin.
Though there haven’t been many celebrations in these parts in recent years -- the Dodgers had won only one playoff game in the last two decades -- the postgame scene in the home clubhouse felt familiar.
Third baseman Casey Blake, a 35-year-old from Iowa who listens to country music, had heard M.I.A.'s “Paper Planes” so many times in recent weeks that he was singing the words to the Dodgers’ victory song that was being looped on the clubhouse stereo system.
“It’s good when you hear this song,” said the bearded Blake, bopping his head to the hip-hop beat. “It means we’re getting ready to play or that we’ve won.”
The start of Game 3 looked like a continuation of the first two games in Chicago, as Russell Martin doubled off Cubs starter Rich Harden with one out in the first and moved to third on a single by Manny Ramirez.
Andre Ethier struck out, but Loney lined a double to right that drove in Martin and Ramirez, who slid by catcher Geovany Soto and tapped home plate with his left hand. Nearby, third base coach Larry Bowa leaped and pumped his fist. Everywhere in the stands, white hand towels were being waved.
Martin said that in a short pregame meeting Manager Joe Torre told them: “Bring the game to them. Be aggressive.”
“That’s what we did,” Martin said.
And the Dodgers were on their way.
Hiroki Kuroda protected the 2-0 lead, but it wasn’t easy. Credited with 6 1/3 scoreless innings, he was in almost constant danger.
Kuroda gave up a two-out double to Derrek Lee and walked Aramis Ramirez in the first, escaping by forcing Soto to ground out to third.
He gave up two-out singles to Mike Fontenot and Lee two innings later, again escaping by forcing a grounder to third, this one by Ramirez.
Soto hit a double to start the fifth and moved to third on a groundout by Jim Edmonds.
Blake was playing deep when Mark DeRosa hit a grounder to him, but Soto didn’t run on contact and remained on the corner as DeRosa was thrown out.
Kuroda intentionally walked Ryan Theriot to get to Harden, and the towels came out after the pitcher struck out.
They came out again in the fifth, when a double by Martin scored Rafael Furcal from first to extend the Dodgers’ lead to 3-0.
By this time, Cubs Manager Lou Piniella had seen enough of Ramirez. He ordered him to be walked intentionally in the third with first base open and did so again here, this one marking the end of Harden’s evening.
Harden was replaced by Sean Marshall, who got the last two outs of the inning and kept deficit at three.
Harden, who was acquired in a midseason trade from Oakland and was 5-1 for the Cubs during the regular season, pitched 5 1/3 innings and was charged with all three runs and five hits.
Kuroda settled down in the fifth and sixth, retiring the six batters he faced.
But he gave up an infield hit to Theriot on a play that could’ve been scored an error on Furcal and a pinch-hit single to slumping Kosuke Fukudome, who was previously hitless in the series. That spelled the end for Kuroda, who was replaced by Cory Wade.
Wade navigated his way through that inning, but he gave up a run in the eighth and had to be rescued by Broxton with two out and pinch-runner Ronnie Cedeno on second.
Broxton blew away DeRosa to end the inning, setting up a ninth inning that was years in the making.
The towels came out again and fans chanted, “Sweep! Sweep!”
Theriot struck out.
The chants grew louder.
Fukudome grounded out to short.
The stadium started to shake.
Alfonso Soriano took strike one, swung at strike two and couldn’t check his swing on strike three.
The game was over. The series was over.
Broxton pumped his fist and screamed. The dugout and bullpen emptied.
The drought was over.
Dodgers’ next step
The Dodgers will face the winner of the Brewers-Phillies series in the NLCS. If it’s the Brewers, the first two games are at Dodger Stadium.
Game 1: Thursday at L.A./Phil
Game 2: Friday at L.A./Phil
Game 3: Sun. Oct. 12 at Milw./L.A.
Game 4: Mon. Oct. 13 at Milw./L.A.
Game 5*: Wed. Oct. 15 at Milw./L.A.
Game 6*: Fri. Oct. 17 at L.A./Phil.
Game 7*: Sat. Oct. 18 at L.A./Phil
All games on Ch. 11 *if necessary