Catcher Tim Federowicz lounged on a black vinyl sofa, watching a baseball game on TV, while a few feet away pitchers Hyun-Jin Ryu and Josh Beckett and infielders Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe gathered around a table for a loud game of dominoes.
A moment later, wide-eyed players with the Jackie Robinson West Little League team, which won the U.S. championship last month, came snaking through the room behind outfielder Carl Crawford.
With the division title won, batting practice canceled and the night’s game with the Colorado Rockies basically meaningless, the Dodgers clubhouse was an unusually relaxed place Saturday.
“It’s definitely a reward,” reliever J.P. Howell said. “The games still count and all that. But at the same time, it’s fun to play a little stress-free. It does make a difference.
“You can do some things you wouldn’t be able to do. You can lift a little heavier now. You can throw a little extra. It’s a huge advantage.”
One that grew a little bit bigger Saturday when the Dodgers were able to pull both Dee Gordon and Ramirez from their 6-5, 12-inning victory over the Rockies for precautionary reasons.
Gordon came out in the second inning after experiencing right hip irritation and underwent an MRI exam, results of which were not immediately available. The injury is not considered serious, the Dodgers said, although Gordon left a game in June with pain in the same area.
Ramirez, who wasn’t going to play a full game anyway, left in the fourth inning after fouling a ball off his left knee. He finished the at-bat by drawing a walk, then exited for pinch-runner Miguel Rojas.
Ramirez isn’t expected to play Sunday although his injury, too, is considered minor.
One guy who had a good night Saturday with was right-hander Carlos Frias, who improved his chances of making the postseason roster with three hitless innings out of the bullpen. Frias struck out five and threw 31 of his 43 pitches for strikes.
And he wouldn’t have even been in the game if not for a mistake by left-hander Paco Rodriguez, who is also fighting for a spot in the playoff bullpen. Rodriguez gave up a game-tying home run to Colorado’s Ben Paulsen on his first pitch in the ninth inning.
“There are still spots that are open,” Manager Don Mattingly said. “So we’re kind of throwing guys out there in different spots. Still you’re not going to make your decision based on one game.”
But the luxury of time is one thing the Dodgers have on their side.
Last year the team settled the division race with nine games remaining, a little too early for Mattingly’s liking. This summer the Dodgers did it with a much-more-manageable four days left in the regular season – long enough to give weary and sore regulars a rest but not long enough to worry about anyone losing his edge.
“A couple of days is fine, where you can kind of give a guy a day off,” said Mattingly, who held Ramirez out of Friday’s game and gave Uribe and Crawford the day off Saturday. “If you’re not ready now you’re not going to be ready. Ten swings in BP or 50 more swings in BP is not going to change anything at this point.”
The break also gives Mattingly time to set his pitching for a National League division series, which begins Friday with the Dodgers playing host to the St. Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh Pirates. Clayton Kershaw, who will start the opener, is scheduled to prepare with a brief simulated game Sunday. Game 2 starter Zack Greinke will pitch in the regular-season finale against the Rockies but will have a short leash similar to the one Dan Haren had Saturday, when he was pulled after five innings and 78 pitches.
But the chance to relax and reenergize before the playoffs may be more important mentally than physically.
“There’s no pressure for us right now,” said Scott Van Slyke, who scored the winning run in the 12th inning, singling with one out then rounding the bases on a hit batter, a stolen base and a wild pitch. “We’re just kind of getting ready to go from here on out. I think everybody’s excited for the postseason.
“It’s a really long season. And to be best in your division is a good feeling.”
Howell, who sauntered into the clubhouse a little later than usual, agreed.
“This is what it’s all about,” he said, speaking of the division title and the break that came with it. “All year long we waited for this. “
Howell, who will be appearing in his seventh postseason series, said the Dodgers will have no trouble flipping the switch come Friday.
“It’s free adrenaline,” he said. “It’s tough right now to play a little bit because the adrenaline is a little down. And that emotional roller coaster we were just on, winning and clinching.
“Definitely we’ll be able to turn it on. If you can’t turn it on for a playoff, there’s something wrong with you.”