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Dodgers' working title: best in West

They don't let 7-5 loss to Padres dampen their spirits as they clinch division championship with Arizona loss. But team knows the job is far from done.

September 26, 2008|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Manny Ramirez walked onto the field and took a microphone in his hand. Looking up at the screaming crowd that remained at Dodger Stadium, he shouted, "What's up, L.A.? Mannywood!"

The way the Dodgers secured their third postseason berth in five years Thursday was certainly unconventional, but they didn't let that take away from their celebration.

That they lost their final home game of the regular season to the San Diego Padres, 7-5, was inconsequential. They were the champions of the National League West.

Ramirez, who poured champagne on the fans in the box seats behind the backstop, retreated to the clubhouse with his uniform pants soaked in red, remnants of a bucket of Gatorade dumped on him by Takashi Saito. Casey Blake had an entire chest of ice deposited on his head. Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers' 20-year-old left-hander, was doubled over laughing, covered in sparkling wine spit onto his face by Hiroki Kuroda.

The party was moved to the site of the final series of the regular season, San Francisco, with the rookies traveling in costumes handed to them as part of the club's hazing ritual.

The Dodgers knew they were postseason-bound long before they took the field in front of the sell-out crowd of 52,569 fans.

The division title was officially theirs by 2:32 p.m. Pacific time, when the St. Louis Cardinals completed their 12-3 thumping of the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks to eliminate them from contention.

About half of the Dodgers were already in the clubhouse for the final out of the Diamondbacks' game, but their celebrations were largely limited to handshakes and hugs, with the speakers blaring M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," the team's victory song over their three-week rampage to close the season.

"It doesn't make it any different," said Nomar Garciaparra, who was among the 15 to 20 players in the locker room when the Dodgers learned that they were back in the postseason after a one-year absence.

The division crown was the first won outright by the Dodgers in four years.

"It was so satisfying," said Manager Joe Torre, who was hired over the winter to ensure this very outcome. "The game was a lot of fun tonight. I wish we would've won."

The Dodgers had won 18 of their previous 23 games. They passed the Diamondbacks in the standings on Sept. 6 and never looked back.

The release of emotions that General Manager Ned Colletti described as "relieved and ecstatic" was enough to get the man credited for altering the course of the Dodgers' season to talk about his departure from Boston.

"It was unbelievable, man," said Ramirez, who forced the Red Sox to trade him at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. "When I left Boston, it was great. A new life. My dream come true. I wanted to show people that I play hard and I wanted to show people what I could do. I know a lot of people doubt me. Whatever people say out there, well, that's good because I came and I proved everybody wrong."

Not that Ramirez was glued to a television set like most of his teammates. He wasn't in the clubhouse when the Dodgers clinched, learning about what transpired only when he was told by someone in a Dodger Stadium elevator.

"The main goal is to get in," Ramirez said. "It doesn't matter about the champagne or how you find out."

Would he want to face the Red Sox in the World Series?

"Wait, wait, wait," Ramirez said. "We're going too fast."

Owner Frank McCourt watched the Diamondbacks' elimination with Torre in the manager's office. McCourt's and Torre's wives were also there, as were Colletti and Charles Steinberg of the marketing department.

"We're making progress," McCourt said. "There's no question in my mind that the culture of winning is returning. . . . When we've re-established the culture of winning, we'll talk about winning less and we'll do it more."

McCourt remained mum on whether he would make an effort to re-sign Ramirez, who has driven in 53 runs in 51 games for the Dodgers, or retain Colletti, who is signed through next season.

Of Colletti's situation in particular, McCourt said, "The people that need to know how I feel know how I feel."

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Division champs

Teams that have won NL West titles since divisional play began in 1969:

Dodgers... 10

Cincinnati... 7

San Francisco... 6

Atlanta... 5

San Diego... 5

Arizona... 4

Houston... 2

Titles since the divisions were realigned before the 1995 season:

Arizona... 4

San Diego... 4

Dodgers... 3

San Francisco... 3

Colorado... 0

Source: baseball-reference.com

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