The Dodgers, derided in April as the Boys of Slumber, awakened echoes of glories past on an enchanted October evening at Dodger Stadium, winning their sixth National League Western Division title.
At 9:10 p.m. Wednesday night, zero hour for the Dodgers' magic number, a full-throated roar erupted from the crowd of 32,042 when broadcaster Vin Scully, counting down the ninth inning of the Reds' 5-4 loss to San Diego, announced the final Cincinnati out just as Dodger rookie Mariano Duncan was popping out to Brave first baseman Bob Horner in the bottom of the fifth here.
"It's been a most remarkable evening," Scully exulted. "I've never heard such a tremendous roar for a pop fly to first."
There were hugs all around in the Dodger dugout while the crowd stood and gave the team a three-minute ovation. Out on first base, Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser accepted a congratulatory handshake from Brave first baseman Bob Horner, then stood on the bag, tears running freely down his face.
"Winning in '83 wasn't anything like this," said Mike Marshall, who singled, doubled and hit his 27th home run before coming out for a pinch-runner in the Dodgers' 9-3 win over Atlanta, their 94th victory of the season.
With Jay Johnstone in a beanie that read "Beam Me Up, Scotty," and Tom Niedenfuer wearing a buffalo head, the champagne-and-beer-fueled celebration that followed in the Dodger clubhouse was far more raucous than the one that took place in 1983, the year of the Dodgers' last division title, when players like Hershiser and Marshall and Greg Brock were rookies.
It also got out of hand momentarily when at least one TV camera struck rookie shortstop Mariano Duncan in the face, bloodying his nose and requiring him to get attention in the trainers' room.
"This is a very, very close team, which is why it meant a lot," Marshall said. "I know it looks like we just won a world championship in here, but we were under a lot of pressure. Day in and day out, the Reds put pressure on us, and now it's just time to turn it loose.
"What makes it more special than '83 is we worked harder for it. It didn't come easy."
Hershiser, in a game rendered meaningless by the Reds' loss, pitched six innings for his 19th win of the season--and 11th in a row--against just three losses. It also was his 11th win without a loss in Dodger Stadium, the best winning percentage ever by a Dodger pitcher at home. Sandy Koufax had a .917 percentage when he went 11-1 at home in 1963.
And for good measure, Hershiser also had three hits for the first time in his career, driving in a run in the second, touching off a four-run Dodger fourth with a bunt single and singling again in the fifth.
Hershiser said he didn't understand the crowd's reaction in the fifth until he looked in the Dodger dugout and saw Lasorda hugging everyone in sight.
"I remember in '83 when I was a rookie, running around and congratulating everybody," Hershiser said. "I hope I played a pretty good part in this one."
The division title was the fifth won by the Dodgers in Tom Lasorda's nine seasons as manager. The Dodgers won in Lasorda's first season, 1977, and also in 1978, 1981 and 1983.
The Dodgers, who will play either St. Louis or New York in the National League playoffs that open here next Wednesday, have won three pennants and one World Series (1981) under Lasorda. They lost the '83 playoffs to Philadelphia, three games to one.
Lasorda was in his office early Wednesday afternoon, sitting at his desk in his underwear while taking phone calls from friends and opening mail, his usual routine. By the end of the evening, his familiar No. 2 uniform would be soaked in Piper Sonoma champagne, vintage 1982.
"I'm more proud of this club than any I've ever managed," said Lasorda, in words remarkably similar to the ones he used in 1983. "They never doubted themselves, they believed they could come back, even when people were ridiculing them and embarrassing them."
By the seventh inning, Lasorda had virtually cleared the Dodger dugout, substituting freely so his regulars could begin to party early.
The Dodgers finished the game with a lineup that included Ralph Bryant in right field, Dave Anderson at second, Steve Sax at third (yes, third, for the first time in his career), Stu Pederson in left, Jose Gonzalez in center, Steve Yeager behind the plate and Franklin Stubbs at first. Rookie Pederson had come to the ballpark almost five hours before the game to take batting practice by himself in the cage underneath the stands. In his only at-bat, he struck out, but that didn't diminish the sheer fun of the moment.
Out in the bullpen, Dodger relievers tossed baseballs to the crowd, souvenirs from a title season that few observers had foreseen in the spring, when virtually no one picked the Dodgers to oust San Diego in the West.
"The main thing is we surprised a lot of people," said Pedro Guerrero, who ran through the clubhouse, champagne bottle in each hand, spraying all who crossed his path.