Clincher culminates amazing run for LA

Clincher culminates amazing LA run

SAN FRANCISCO -- With a dateline like that, you know how sweet this is for the Dodgers.

They clinched a spot in the National League playoffs by beating the dreaded rival Giants in front of their Dodger-hating fans. And if Greg Maddux's methodical 4-2 victory Saturday wasn't as dramatic as the Bobby Thomson or Joe Morgan varieties, you couldn't tell by the way the Dodgers turned the visiting locker room into Animal House.

"A lot of things took place this season, and not all of them good, but if you reach your goal in the 161st game and you don't celebrate a little or a lot, you're inhuman," said manager Grady Little.

A few fungoes away from the Napa Valley, the Dodgers clubhouse was flooded with French champagne (Moet & Chandon) and absolutely ice-cold Bud Light, some of which was actually consumed.

Most of it was sprayed, doused and showered, a symbolic release of the frustration and satisfaction experienced in a season that required so much to go right to overcome so much that went wrong.

"When we lost 13 of 14 coming out of the All-Star break, I can't say there weren't a few days I wondered when we'd pull out of it," said Ned Colletti, who hired Little after being named general manager and started a wholesale turnover of the roster that continued through last month.

"What we saw was how bad they wanted to be great."

Colletti went on a trading spree that brought the Dodgers a future Hall of Famer in Maddux, among others, and the club coincidentally went on a historic turnaround run, winning 17 of 18. They outlasted Philadelphia for the Wild Card by getting hot again at the finish, winning their last six and eight of nine, taking advantage of a schedule that had them finish against the three worst teams in the division.

But they earned their berth by playing well enough long enough, going 40-19 after July 28, tying Oakland for the best record from that date.

"I don't think we've been this good all year," said Little. "When we won 17 of 18, we weren't as good a team as we are now."

After seemingly endless personnel turnover, the Dodgers are now playing like a cohesive club. First, Colletti felt he had to rebuild a roster that lost 91 games last year. But shortly after leaving Spring Training, the Dodgers had to overcome the losses of Eric Gagne, Yhency Brazoban, Bill Mueller and Jayson Werth; had to carry on despite nagging injuries that still hamper Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra; had to compensate for the disappointing play of acquisitions Danys Baez, Jae Seo and Mark Hendrickson.

They did it with rookies like Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and 36-year-old Japanese journeyman-turned-closer Takashi Saito performing beyond any expectations; with Rafael Furcal shaking off early injuries to perform like a $13 million catalyst; with 100 RBIs (including two Saturday) and a full season out of J.D. Drew; and with an ageless Kenny Lofton, who had three hits and scored twice in the clincher.

They did it with Maddux providing professionalism on the mound and in the clubhouse, and with Derek Lowe taking over as ace in the second half after Brad Penny couldn't duplicate his All-Star first half.

"Above any team I've been on," said Kent, "you can point your finger at everybody from the owner to the batboy, and everyone was a factor in helping us get here. Everybody did something, and that's cool."

Speaking of Furcal, he was able to rework a quote he had issued throughout his slow first half. The run he scored Saturday was No. 113, and he'll probably play Sunday, needing four hits to reach 200.

"I told you guys," said Furcal. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."

Lowe, who parlayed World Series heroics in 2004 into a $36 million Dodgers contract, will start Game 1 of the Division Series. He was the life of the party Saturday afternoon, dispensing adult beverages and fine cigars to keep the celebration going.

"Give this organization credit," said Lowe. "They told us they would get it right. They felt they needed different people. We lost 91 games last year. We lost 13 in a row or whatever this year, and were 7 1/2 games out, and people wondered where we were. We turned it around, and a lot of people should be proud."

Chairman Frank McCourt, batting .667 with two postseason appearances in three years as owner, was quite a contrast Saturday from the embattled executive who dismissed general manager Paul DePodesta 11 months ago.

"I expect to win a championship every year. That's where we set the bar, a high bar and it's not easy," said McCourt, who was a dripping mess. "This team has established an identity, a culture around winning and putting the team first and playing hard day in and day out. It sounds corny, but we expect to win."

Corny? Probably.

Sweet? Definitely.

"The fans are bitter here, for not winning," said Kent, a former Giant who ran through Rich Donnelly's stop sign to score the fourth and final run. "That makes me feel good when they boo so bad."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.