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The Sports Report: The Dodgers clinch the NL West title really early

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts celebrates by spraying champagne with players in the locker room
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts celebrates by spraying champagne with players in the locker room after the team beat the Diamondbacks Tuesday. With the victory, the Dodgers clinched the National League West title.
(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Howdy, I’m your host, Iliana Limón Romero, filling in for Houston Mitchell, who is probably spraying champagne everywhere right now. While I’m here, I also want to wish my mom a happy birthday. And now, let’s get right to the news.

From Jack Harris: Last year they chased the San Francisco Giants in vain until the final day of the season, falling one win short of a division title and victim to an arduous postseason path as a lower-seeded wild-card team.

It haunted them all winter. It was one of their main motivators this spring. And all season it has been the goal most front-of-mind for the team with baseball’s best record

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The Dodgers wanted to reclaim the NL West. Badly.

“That was first on our list,” manager Dave Roberts said. “To get the division back in Los Angeles.”

On Tuesday night, with more than three weeks remaining in the regular season, they officially did.

With a 4-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field, the Dodgers clinched the division title in dominant fashion, locking it up with 21 games to go, one night after officially becoming the first team in baseball to secure a playoff spot.

From Bill Shaikin: Among the salty pearls of wisdom bequeathed to us by the late, great Tommy Lasorda: “This [bleeping] job is not that [bleeping] easy.”

We would do well to remember Lasorda’s words today. The Dodgers have won the National League West, again, and Los Angeles greets the news with a shrug. The Dodgers have been so relentlessly successful that the 162-game grind has been popularly reduced to something akin to six months of preseason play.

Your team might start its season in April. Our team starts its season in October.

Los Angeles Times sports section cover on Sept. 14 showing the Dodgers' NL West title celebration

“I think people who aren’t involved in it every day think it’s a rite of passage,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There’s a lot of work on all fronts to have this type of consistency. But, like with anything, when you’re consistent, it gets redundant and people expect it.”

Roberts isn’t complaining. Better to manage a team expected to win every year than a team never expected to win.

In “A League of Their Own,” Tom Hanks described baseball this way: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Winning a division is not supposed to be easy.

“I think it’s really hard,” Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. “Not many teams can do it.”

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TREVOR BAUER

Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer looks on after giving up a hit.
Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer looks on after giving up a hit on June 12, 2021, at Dodger Stadium.
(Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)

From Bill Shaikin: The video lasts nine seconds, with no sound. Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer appears to be asleep in bed, with a mask over his eyes. Next to him in bed, his attorneys say: the woman whose sexual assault allegations against Bauer triggered the investigation that resulted in his two-year suspension from Major League Baseball.

The woman took the video herself, according to attorneys for Bauer. On Tuesday night, in asking a federal court to throw out the woman’s claim against Bauer for sexual battery, the attorneys included in their court filing a video they said was obtained from the Pasadena Police Department and taken at Bauer’s home after he allegedly injured her during a sexual encounter on May 16, 2021.

“She appears to be willingly in bed with a sleeping Mr. Bauer, and is smirking and uninjured,” the attorneys wrote. In the video, no facial injuries are apparent.

In denying the woman a restraining order against Bauer, a judge last year said the woman was “not ambiguous about wanting rough sex in the parties’ first encounter and wanting rougher sex in the second encounter.” Yet the judge also said the woman’s “injuries as shown in the photographs are terrible.”

ANGELS

The Angels' Mike Trout flies out during the fifth inning of the team's game against the Guardians
The Angels’ Mike Trout flies out during the fifth inning against the Guardians Tuesday in Cleveland.
(David Dermer / Associated Press)

From Sarah Valenzuela: Mike Trout came up just one home run short of history.

The Angels slugger on Tuesday had four chances to hit a home run for the eighth game in row and all four times, none of the balls he hit were able to clear the wall in Cleveland.

“This one was a little bit different because of the buildup,” Trout told reporters in Cleveland after the game. “I’m not going to lie. I’ve been thinking about [the streak], for sure. Everybody’s been texting me. You guys are asking me a bunch of questions. It’s kind of hard not to think about the streaks in Major League history. Not even just home runs. Like, it’s hard for a 10-game hit streak, let alone 56 games. It’s just ridiculous. You’re always thinking about it.”

His first two at-bats, against Guardians starter Cody Morris, resulted in a fly out and a walk. In his final two attempts, against relievers Kirk McCarty and James Karinchak, Trout lined out and flied out. The Angels lost 3-1, their fifth loss in the last six games.

“My first three at-bats, I wasn’t, but my last at-bat I was,” Trout said of his home run attempt on the day. “It’s the nature of things, I guess. When I think home run, not good. As you saw. I chased some pitches and was amped up too much. Got to start a new streak, I guess.”

CHARGERS

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler runs against the Raiders in Inglewood
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler runs against the Raiders in Inglewood Sunday.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

From Jeff Miller: The Chargers won a big AFC West showdown Sunday behind their Pro Bowl quarterback who hit nine receivers and targeted 11 teammates total.

The passing game was a spectacular spray chart of opportunities spread in many directions.

But the running game? That chart wasn’t so spectacular.

The Chargers did manage 31 rushes, helping them open a five-minute advantage in time of possession on an afternoon when they ran nine more offensive plays than Las Vegas.

But they averaged only 2.5 yards per rushing attempt, which ranked last among the NFL’s 32 teams in Week 1.

USC FOOTBALL

USC cornerback Mekhi Blackmon warms up during a practice
USC cornerback Mekhi Blackmon warms up during a spring football practice.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

From Ryan Kartje: Mekhi Blackmon had seen the play before and knew how to respond.

Two years earlier, as a cornerback for Colorado, Stanford twice tested Blackmon on the same jump-ball play call; both times he’d successfully batted the pass down. This time, as a senior corner at USC, he would do one better.

Blackmon faced regular tests in USC’s 41-28 victory over Stanford this past Saturday, proving his place as the Trojans’ top corner as Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee targeted him 10 times.

The most ill-advised of those attempts, the one Blackmon recognized ahead of time, came at a critical early juncture Saturday. Stanford had just mounted a seven-minute, 13-play drive, rolling over the Trojans’ defense with relative ease. Faced with a fourth-and-goal, Blackmon clung to 6-foot-3 Cardinal wideout Elijah Higgins, who set up in the end zone, awaiting a familiar jump ball from McKee.

“I anticipated the same thing coming,” Blackmon said, “and when he threw, I was able to tip it up.”

CURLING

Instructor Adriana Camarena demonstrates how to deliver a stone
Instructor Adriana Camarena, a member of the Mexican curling team, demonstrates to students how to deliver a stone during a Learn to Curl lesson at the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club on June 10 in Oakland, CA.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

From Kevin Baxter: José Sepúlveda believes dreams don’t have to end when you wake up.

“My dream,” he said “was to be an Olympian. To compete for Puerto Rico.”

He tried fencing, then gymnastics. But he kept waking to the same reality.

“I was not good. I couldn’t make it,” he said. “But I still hold the dream of representing Puerto Rico.”

He eventually decided the problem wasn’t with the dream, it was with the sport. That’s when he discovered curling, the Winter Olympics competition that is part shuffleboard, part light housekeeping played on a sheet of ice.

“I was in a bar and I saw curling. I felt, ‘You know what? Maybe I can do this. Let me give it a try,’ ” remembered Sepúlveda, a 53-year-old audio-video engineer.

“Maybe you believe that maybe I am too old for this. You know what? I can do this. No matter how old I am.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way. On many evenings at the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club, the Oakland facility where Sepúlveda practices, he is surrounded by a half-dozen other young adult and middle-aged Walter Mittys; urban-studies professors, community activists, social media managers and public-school teachers, many of whom dream of representing their countries as curlers.

It’s a dream that appears more and more possible as new and emerging markets begin to embrace the sport, making its base both larger and more diverse.

LAFC

LAFC forward Carlos Vela controls the ball
LAFC forward Carlos Vela (10) controls the ball against FC Dallas on June 29.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

From the Associated Press: Carlos Vela’s goal in the 64th minute Tuesday night earned LAFC a 1-1 draw against Minnesota United in St. Paul, Minn., ending a four-game road skid but leaving LAFC two points shy of capturing the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

LAFC (19-8-4), the only West team in MLS that has clinched a postseason berth, could have secured home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs if it had won Tuesday. The team still can do so Wednesday night if Real Salt Lake beats or draws Austin FC.

WNBA

Aces forward A'ja Wilson guards Sun center Brionna Jones during Game 2 of the WNBA Finals
Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson (22) guards Connecticut Sun center Brionna Jones (42) during Game 2 of the WNBA Finals Tuesday in Las Vegas.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

From the Associated Press: A’ja Wilson had 26 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Las Vegas Aces to an 85-71 victory over the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.

The Aces are now one victory away from the franchise’s first championship with Game 3 on Thursday in Connecticut. Las Vegas was swept in the 2008 Finals when the team was still in San Antonio. The Aces were also swept in 2020.

“It’s going to take every bit of everybody,” said Chelsea Gray, who added 21 points. “You can see the stats, it’s the toughness, it’s the little things that will get it done We have been a good road team this year. So we might as well go win on the road.”

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1923 — Jack Dempsey knocks out Luis Firpo in the second round for his last successful defense of his world heavyweight title, at Madison Square Garden in New York.

1947 — Jack Kramer beats Frank Parket to win the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association championship. Kramer wins 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

1959 — The new $32 million Aqueduct, operated by the New York Racing Association, opens.

1968 — Jimmy Ellis wins the WBA heavyweight title by beating Floyd Patterson in the 15th round in Stockholm, Sweden.

1986 — Chicago’s Walter Payton rushes for 177 yards, to reach the 15,000-yard plateau and scores his 100th career rushing touchdown as the Bears beat the Philadelphia Eagles 13-10.

1991 — Freshman Marshall Faulk of San Diego State rushes for an NCAA record 386 yards and scores seven touchdowns in his second collegiate game. Faulk sets an NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns in a game by a freshman as the Aztecs beat Pacific 55-34.

1991 — Texas A&M freshman Greg Hill has the greatest debut by a freshman running back in college football history as the Aggies rout LSU 45-7. Hill sets a major college record with 212 yards rushing in his first game and scores twice on 30 carries.

1994 — The baseball season, already shut down by a monthlong strike, is canceled along with the World Series in a vote by 26 of the 28 teams.

2002 — Tim Montgomery of the United States sets a world record in the 100 meters, clocking 9.78 seconds at the IAAF Grand Prix Final in Paris. The previous world record of 9.79 was set by fellow American Maurice Greene in 1999.

2003 — Jamal Lewis rushes for an NFL-record 295 yards on 30 carries in Baltimore’s 33-13 victory over Cleveland.

2006 — Tiger Woods’ five-tournament winning streak finally ends when Shaun Micheel knocks him out in the first round of the World Match Play Championship. The score was 4 and 3, matching Woods’ worst loss in match play.

2010 — Reggie Bush announces he is forfeiting his Heisman Trophy. The running back releases a statement saying he would give back the award that he won in 2005 while he was at Southern California. It’s the first time college football’s top award is returned by a recipient.

2011 — The Pittsburgh pirates clinches its 19th consecutive losing season, a record for a major league franchise in North America, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2.

2014 — Mirjana Lucic-Baroni beats Venus Williams 6-4, 6-3 to win the Coupe Banque Nationale and set the record for the biggest gap between WTA titles. Lucic-Baroni wins her third WTA title and first in 16 years and four months.

2014 — New England’s Bill Belichick becomes the sixth head coach in NFL history to reach 200 regular-season wins with a 30-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Belichick has a 200-106 (.654) record in the regular season.

Compiled by the Associated Press

And finally

Watch the Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and pitcher Clayton Kershaw address the team before celebrating their National League West championship victory Tuesday night.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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