Dodgers finally get uncorked
On one side of the clubhouse, Frank McCourt was emptying a bottle of champagne over Manny Ramirez’s head.
On the other, Andre Ethier was shrieking as beer ran down the back of his shirt.
In the middle, traveling secretary Scott Akasaki screamed for everyone to hear: “No flight on Monday! No flight on Monday!”
At last, the Dodgers were the champions of the National League West.
The Dodgers unleashed their pent-up frustration in a five-run seventh inning that matched their entire offensive output from the previous five days, the five-hit, two-walk outburst lifting them to a 5-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night that secured their second title in a row.
For the last six days, the magic number for the Dodgers to win the division was at one.
The Dodgers lost five consecutive games over that span. The Rockies won six.
“It seemed like a year,” General Manager Ned Colletti said.
But the 21-year-old in the middle of everything was there to provide some perspective.
“One win does a lot of things for a team,” Clayton Kershaw said. “The sixth time is the charm for us.”
The Dodgers’ victory not only ended a season-long skid, but also ensured them of home-field advantage through the NL Championship Series.
The first obstacle to the World Series will be the St. Louis Cardinals, who will visit the Dodger Stadium for the opening game of the NL division series Wednesday.
To get to this point, the Dodgers had to overcome Ramirez’s 50-game suspension. They had to answer questions about whether their inexperienced pitching staff could withstand the rigors of a 162-game season. They had to survive six scoreless innings Saturday night.
Then the real underdogs emerged as the heroes.
Ronnie Belliard, the late-August addition with a strained groin, hit an infield single off Rockies reliever Franklin Morales that broke the scoreless tie.
Mark Loretta, the 38-year-old utilityman, doubled in the next run.
Then, there was Juan Pierre, the $44-million outfielder who one day woke up and found himself a bench player. Pierre singled in Russell Martin to put the Dodgers up, 3-0.
A sacrifice fly by Matt Kemp added another run.
The rally was capped by a future Hall of Famer who had struck out in his last six plate appearances heading into the game.
Ramirez singled to right field, Rafael Furcal scored, and the game was in the bag.
“That,” Manager Joe Torre said of Ramirez’s hit, “was pretty cool.”
And a relief.
Torre admitted that he wasn’t himself in the hours leading up to the game.
“I was uptight,” he said.
The kid struck out the first five batters he faced.
He was so dominant that when the Dodgers had two on with two out in the fifth inning of a scoreless game, Torre let him hit for himself.
Over six innings, Kershaw limited the Rockies to three hits. He struck out 10. In five days, he figures to start Game 2 of the division series.
Ending the game was closer Jonathan Broxton, who had a chance to seal the division title in Pittsburgh six days ago, only to blow a three-run lead.
Broxton pitched a perfect ninth, getting Garrett Atkins to fly out to Andre Ethier for the final out.
The celebration was on. Players and coaches flooded out of the dugout. The bullpen emptied. Caps and shirts were handed out on the mound.
“In Pittsburgh, it didn’t go the way I wanted,” Broxton said. “It felt like a while to get here. The champagne traveled a lot. It probably has more miles on it than any other champagne.”