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BASEBALL'S STRETCH RUN

Dodgers Go All In

Rebuilt team clinches playoff spot with a 4-2 victory over the Giants and NL West could be won today

October 01, 2006|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — This was not the time or place for a few quiet words, but this would have to do. Champagne flew in every direction, sprayed by players making loud and joyful noises.

In a corner of the clubhouse, the random drenchings had stopped for a moment, and an old guy walked up to an older guy. Greg Maddux, bound for the Hall of Fame, had three words for the rookie general manager who threw Maddux a lifeline in July, rescuing him from a bummer summer and tossing him one more chance at the Fall Classic.

"Thanks for everything," Maddux told Ned Colletti.

The thanks were mutual, to say the least. Maddux put the Dodgers on his back and into the playoffs Saturday, scattering three hits over seven innings of the Dodgers' 4-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants. If the Dodgers win today and the San Diego Padres lose, the Dodgers would be champions of the National League West. If not -- and they didn't much seem to care Saturday -- they're the wild-card team.

The Giants went quietly, with Maddux, Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito retiring the final 18 hitters. After Lance Niekro struck out for the final out, catcher Russell Martin wrapped one arm around Saito, and shortstop Rafael Furcal, third baseman Wilson Betemit and second baseman Julio Lugo danced around the left side of the infield.

Within moments, the players rushing from the dugout swallowed up the ones on the field. As the group hug dispersed into individual hugs, to the delight of a hearty gathering of Dodgers fans behind the visiting dugout, owners Frank and Jamie McCourt and franchise icon Tom Lasorda emerged from the stands and headed to the clubhouse celebration.

"To do it here in enemy territory and take it to them is a nice feeling," Frank McCourt said.

"I don't envy them or dislike them," Giants Manager Felipe Alou said. "It's well-deserved. We have to accept the truth that they were better."

They were Saturday, winning their sixth game in a row with veteran smarts. Maddux, who bolstered a teetering starting rotation by winning six games in two months, breezed through seven innings in 71 pitches -- and stole second base when San Francisco starter Matt Cain wasn't looking on his way to his 333rd victory.

Kenny Lofton had three hits and two runs, scoring the Dodgers' third run by tagging up on a pop fly to shallow center field.

J.D. Drew hit the 100-RBI mark for the first time in his career, when Jeff Kent ran through a stop sign and scored the Dodgers' fourth run on Drew's double.

"I just wasn't going to stop," Kent said. "I had too much steam."

The same could be said of Colletti, who got his job last November and did not accept that a team that lost 91 games last season and had a bumper crop of prospects should try a rebuilding season.

"I spent too many years working with teams that were below .500, missing my kids grow up," Colletti said. "I never want to go through that kind of season."

So he imported Lofton and Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Mueller and Brett Tomko, Danys Baez and Lance Carter. By the first week of the season, Lofton, Garciaparra and closer Eric Gagne were on the disabled list.

"We've been doing it on the fly ever since," Colletti said.

He turned over the entire bullpen and three-fifths of the starting rotation. He promoted Saito, Broxton, Martin, Andre Ethier and Chad Billingsley. He imported Lugo, Betemit, Mark Hendrickson, Toby Hall and Marlon Anderson. And, on the last day in July, with the Dodgers in last place, he imported Maddux.

"I give the organization a lot of credit," pitcher Derek Lowe said. "They told us from day one they were going to get things right, even if they had to continue to make changes all year long, and they did."

The Dodgers went 1-13 after the All-Star break, then 17-1 and off to the playoffs.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster," Kent said, "winning streaks, losing streaks, personnel turnover. It's gratifying, because everybody was able to maintain without having the boat tip over."

They were soaked Saturday, in champagne and beer.

"If we win the division, we might celebrate again," Manager Grady Little said, grinning.

The Dodgers exhausted hundreds of bottles of champagne Saturday. Little, clutching a bottle in one hand, said they probably could buy a few hundred more today.

"The stores will be open," he said.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Then and now

Starting lineups on the day the Dodgers clinched their last playoff appearance -- Oct. 2, 2004 vs San Francisco -- and Saturday:

*--* 2004 2006 Robin Ventura 1B Jeff Kent Alex Cora 2B Julio Lugo Adrian Beltre 3B Wilson Betemit Cesar Izturis SS Rafael Furcal Jayson Werth LF Andre Ethier Steve Finley CF Kenny Lofton Shawn Green RF J.D. Drew Brent Mayne C Russell Martin Elmer Dessens P Greg Maddux

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-- Bill Shaikin

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The possibilities

The National League playoff scenarios. San Diego holds the tiebreaker over the Dodgers:

DODGERS WIN THE WEST

(Dodgers win, San Diego loses)

* St. Louis/Houston at Dodgers, Tuesday

* San Diego at N.Y. Mets, Wednesday

SAN DIEGO WINS THE WEST

(San Diego and Dodgers remain tied)

* St. Louis/Houston at San Diego, Tuesday

* Dodgers at N.Y. Mets, Wednesday

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