A walk-off sendoff for Vin Scully — Dodgers clinch division title in dramatic fashion
The stream of Chandon Brut flowed through the bottle’s green stem, across the shorn-tight skull of Dave Roberts and down his forehead. His face clenched when he felt the sting.
During his first season as manager of the Dodgers, an eight-month odyssey through a record-setting slew of injuries, Roberts had stood on the verge of tears, tested the depth of his stamina and approached the limits of his patience. Now he squinted through the sweetest form of pain: A burst of champagne in his eyes.
“We’re going to be ready to go Tuesday,” Roberts said, “once I get my eyes open.”
Roberts groped blindly for dry cloth. A man nearby offered a shirtsleeve. Roberts cleared his field of vision and witnessed joy all around the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium. A lagoon of liquid pooled in the center of the carpet, while the room stank of fermented grapes and cigar exhaust -- the sights and smells that greet baseball’s victors, teams like the Dodgers, who claimed a fourth consecutive National League West title with a 4-3 victory over Colorado on Sunday.
The Dodgers (90-66) clinched a date with the Washington Nationals, the champions of the East, in the National League Division Series in two weeks. The two clubs will jockey for homefield advantage during the final six games of the season. Washington holds a 1 1/2-game advantage.
The Dodgers effectively ended the division race by downing San Francisco in a series last week. But a late-night, extra-innings victory by the Giants on Saturday delayed the party by 18 hours. Trailing by a run in the ninth inning on Sunday, a homer by rookie sensation Corey Seager tied the score. An inning later, seldom-used infielder Charlie Culberson delivered the winning run with a homer of his own.
The finish provided a storybook ending to Vin Scully’s last broadcast at Dodger Stadium, allowing him to coat a walk-off, division-clinching victory in his unmistakable gloss: “Would you believe a home run?” Scully marveled as Culberson’s ball landed in the Dodgers bullpen for his first homer of the season. A crowd of teammates awaited him at the plate. A wave of relievers sprinted from the bullpen as he rounded third base.
The group engulfed Culberson, the personification of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman’s obsession with maximizing the margins of his roster. Over and over, the Dodgers front office repeated the word “depth” this season. At times, as the team set a major-league record with 28 players on the disabled list, the mantra sounded like a punch line. The Dodgers treated it like gospel. Culberson represented a tidy bow on their rhetoric.
Vin Scully provides the call to Charlie Culberson’s walk-off home run in the legendary broadcaster’s final game announcing at Dodger Stadium.
“It was an incredible organizational moment,” Friedman said. “The number of fingerprints on this division title spanned so many different players and so many different departments in our organization. So many people in the Dodgers family can be proud of this.”
The ethos Roberts instilled into this club elevates the group above the individual. But at times, the brilliance of Seager makes that difficult. As the players packed the clubhouse, several swarmed him. He disappeared amid a spray of Budweiser.
“ROY!” the players chanted, transforming the acronym for Rookie of the Year, the award Seager will assuredly win in November, into its phonetic name. “ROY! ROY!”
A party like this appeared unfathomable in late June, when ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw disappeared with a herniated disk. But rather than flop, the team transformed. The offense came alive. Roberts found a useful strategy with his pitching staff, limiting his starters to five or six innings, like the 5 1/3 received from Brandon McCarthy on Sunday. As the Giants collapsed, the Dodgers took flight.
The formula set the stage for Kershaw’s return earlier this month. Despondent during his 11 weeks on the shelf, he has rejoiced in rejoining his team. He was trying to wade through a television interview after the game when the champagne interrupted his speech. Dripping wet, Kershaw wagged his hair like a dog and screamed.
“You’ve got to let it burn!” Kershaw said. “No goggles. You’ve just got to let it burn!”
Roberts stepped into the camera shot to offer an aside. “Let it burn, Kersh!” he screamed.
Kershaw bulled through the liquid crossfire toward the clubhouse entrance. It was his last moment of madness. “My skin,” he said as he emerged from the throng. “My skin.”
Kershaw found his wife and hoisted his daughter in his arms. A few feet nearby, Rich Hill stood with his wife and their son. Hill held the boy aloft as he scanned the room. It was Hill’s arrival in August, along with Josh Reddick, that fortified the Dodgers’ roster and heightened the possibilities for October.
Kershaw and Hill are expected to headline the rotation, a 1-2 combination of left-handers that rivals the team’s pairing of Kershaw and Zack Greinke last season. Friedman absorbed criticism after the Dodgers allowed Greinke to depart in free agency last winter. He reloaded in the form of Kenta Maeda, a slight, taciturn 27-year-old from Japan.
Clad in a pair of gym shorts and sanitary socks, with goggles and a baseball cap on his head, Friedman locked eyes with Maeda. The two men hugged.
“Congratulations,” Friedman said. “You’re a major part of this.”
“Thank you,” Maeda replied in English.
As the two men embraced, they were soaked by Will Ireton, Maeda’s translator. Maeda found payback later when he dumped Ireton into a container filled with empties.
Vin Scully final press conference
Vin Scully's Final Press Conference Part One (of Four)
Vin Scully's Final Press Conference Part Two (of Four)
Vin Scully's Final Press Conference Part Three (of Four)
Vin Scully's Final Press Conference Part Four
Perhaps the driest Dodger was Chase Utley, the eldest member of the roster and a veteran of five division winners in Philadelphia. As the celebration wound down, he ransacked his locker in search of his shower shoes. He eyed the frivolity and expressed his happiness for the rookies who had never had the chance to play in October.
All around the room stood testaments to the philosophies Friedman brought to the roster and Roberts brought to the clubhouse. There was Howie Kendrick, a lifelong infielder who did not grouse about his transition to the outfield, smiling in a selfie. There was Adrian Gonzalez, explaining how his team learned to rely on more than talent in 2016. There was Justin Turner, crediting Seager for rescuing him after he slipped beneath the post-game pile. “He saved the day in more ways than one,” Turner said.
The music stopped, and the players found their spouses and children. The group allowed their minds to drift beyond Sunday’s bliss and into the next month, when the team can accomplish the goals left unfinished in the previous three years, the goals left unfinished since 1988.
“Walking around the room, the focus is incredible,” Friedman said. “Everybody is talking about three more celebrations.”
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