The locker room Dave Roberts stepped into Friday night wasn’t the same place he walked through before the Dodgers’ 4-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants.
Yasiel Puig splashed beer around the clubhouse. Joc Pederson smoked a cigar. Players smiled and embraced.
Roberts felt reborn, the weight of the most miserable month of his managerial career suddenly lifted from his shoulders. The Dodgers were the champions of the National League West for the fifth consecutive season.
“It’s something this group, this team, needed,” Roberts said.
The celebratory scene was nowhere near as festive as it was when the Dodgers secured division titles in previous seasons. Though there was champagne in the clubhouse, the Dodgers weren’t so much euphoric as they were relieved.
A similar feeling was detected in the stands. The fans were relieved the Dodgers didn’t blow what was once a 21-game division lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks, relieved they wouldn’t have to play in the wild-card play-in game, relieved they will have a place in an NL division series.
When closer Kenley Jansen struck out Ryder Jones to seal the victory, the fans stood and applauded. The crowd didn’t roar. Dodger Stadium didn’t shake.
“It’s different,” Roberts said before the game.
But who wants to look ahead now? The Dodgers have been downright awful over the last four weeks. Including their win Friday night, they have won only seven times in their last 27 games.
The performances made it hard to maintain perspective. Regardless of what happened in the last month, this team will have a chance to win 100 games. It won the NL’s most competitive division. The accomplishment was worth celebrating.
“You never know,” Clayton Kershaw said. “This could be the last time you get to celebrate a division title.”
The start of their recent three-city trip offered the promise of relief from the downturn. The Dodgers won two of three games in San Francisco. They did the same in Washington.
They looked as if they had moved past their recent 1-16 stretch, which included a franchise-record 11-game losing streak. They hadn’t.
The Dodgers dropped the first three games of a four-game series to the Philadelphia Phillies, a rebuilding franchise at the bottom of baseball’s worst division.
A month ago, the Dodgers were the best team in baseball, within striking distance of the season record for wins. And now?
With Corey Seager injured, the offense is nowhere near as dangerous as it was early in the season. The bullpen looks particularly vulnerable.
“Everybody got cold at the same time,” Jansen said.
What makes the situation particularly disconcerting is that Roberts and his players have absolutely no explanation for what has happened.
“I can’t really put a finger on it,” Roberts said.
There was an instant Friday when the Dodgers looked as if they might have broken out of their monthlong slumber. It was in the third inning, when rookie Cody Bellinger sent an offering from Giants starter Jeff Samardzija over the right-field wall for a three-run home run that moved the Dodgers in front 4-1.
The home run turned out to be the high point of the night, not the relaunch of a once-potent offense. The Dodgers didn’t score another run.
Roberts acknowledged this is a problem. He wants his team playing well when the regular season ends.
Roberts was hopeful the release of pressure Friday night could turn around his team.
“There was a lot of tension until we clinched,” he said. “There was so much buildup and anticipation. I think this is great for our team.”
And if that fails, well, they can always pray for a miracle. Their division series will start five days after the end of the regular season. Maybe the short break will allow them to magically revert back to midseason form.
“The regular season and the postseason, there’s no parallel, really,” Roberts said.
He can only hope.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez
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