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T.J. SIMERS

Dodgers clinch division title in true Hollywood fashion

Los Angeles keeps fans on the edge of their seats down the stretch.

October 04, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

If sports is all about entertainment and a little escape, as too often these days it is not, kudos to the Dodgers for making it so much fun down the stretch . . . Saturday night just a blast.

They clinch the division title a week ago in Pittsburgh when they needed only three more outs, and what a yawner, Jonathan Broxton blowing it only so all of you might enjoy yourselves a little more and watch the champagne celebration up close.

The past few days have been just what everyone expects of Hollywood, mighty Manny whiffing and the nervous audience left wondering if the Dodgers were really going to gag -- the perfect dress rehearsal for the playoffs.

The Dodgers had the benefit of knowing how it was all going to play out, getting a look at the final page of the script on Page 2 while in Colorado: "It's over, as if there was ever any doubt, at 4:31 p.m. Mountain time, Aug. 27.

"The Dodgers have won the National League West Division title. Congratulations to all."

Knowing that, the Dodgers had no problem playing dead in Washington, Pittsburgh and San Diego, opting to clinch Saturday night so they might have today off before starting the playoffs Wednesday here against the Cardinals.

Now there's nothing like the electricity of anticipation in a ballpark, no one else knowing how this was going to play out, a buzz in the air and the credit going to Clayton Kershaw, who begins the clincher mowing down the Rockies.

He strikes out Carlos Gonzalez, the fans getting into it, strikes out Ryan Spilborghs and maybe this will be the night, and then freezes Todd Helton with a third strike.

It's an exhibition game if the Dodgers don't fall apart against Washington, Pittsburgh and San Diego, but now it just might go into the vault as one of those "I was glad I was there" nights.

Kershaw overmatches Troy Tulowitzski, that's four strikeouts in a row, then Garrett Atkins goes down swinging. It's like watching Manny over and over again the past few days, swinging and missing everything.

Two strikes on Chris Iannetta, the noise building, the crowd coming to its feet, and Iannetta lines a bullet to center and a waiting Juan Pierre.

"That's right, I'm playing," he jokes before the game. "We're waving the white flag." A year ago he pouts when he doesn't get to play; this season his teammates vote him most inspirational, awarding him the Roy Campanella award.

Big question all year long is how will Kershaw handle the playoff pressure, so the Dodgers arrange it so he can experience the feeling before the playoffs start. The Rockies -- a playoff team, seem impressed, or as the night goes on, depressed.

In addition to Kershaw the Dodgers are going to need Ramirez, who hits the ball to center in the second, Gonzalez making a diving catch and everyone in the right-field pavilion going bonkers as if they have never seen Ramirez make contact.

A TV replay shows Gonzalez dropping the ball, the folks in the stands showing they have better eyesight than the umpires -- Dodgers bench coach Bob Schaefer apparently saying just that and getting tossed from the game.

Talk about suspense -- how is Joe Torre going to manage without Schaefer in his ear?

Kershaw strikes out Brad Hawpe, and how good is Kershaw going to be when he grows up? Clint Barmes hits a slow roller to third baseman Casey Blake, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, which means Blake should have no shot at making such a play. But Blake makes the play barehanded, throws out Barmes and if this game doesn't mean so much, someone else is playing third and only comes close to making the play.

Kershaw strikes out pitcher Jorge De La Rosa and De La Rosa throws his bat all the way to the Rockies' dugout and then slams his helmet to the ground inside in the dugout. One inning later he asks out of the game with a pulled groin muscle -- probably hurt while throwing his temper tantrum.

Kershaw strikes out Gonzalez again, and Spilborghs once more -- his ninth victim. But before the Dodgers can get Scully on the scoreboard saying, "swung on and missed, a perfect game," Helton singles.

The kid's already thrown 65 pitches, will be limited to around 90 and now every pitch really does count. He finishes with 104, six scoreless innings and the next time he pitches will be Thursday against St. Louis in the playoffs.

Blake, as much as Manny in so many ways is reason for the Dodgers' turnaround last season, showing them how a professional conducts himself. He starts this year's biggest rally to date with a single.

He gets to third, Torre pulling Orlando Hudson off the on-deck circle so that a gimpy Ronnie Belliard might hit for him. Belliard blasts a single off Helton's glove, Blake scores and Hudson is on the top dugout step to greet him.

Are you having fun yet? Pittsburgh, Schmitsburgh, though that does hit a little close to home. Don't worry, you'll get it later.

Mark Loretta doubles home a run, the Dodgers keep scoring, even Manny driving one home, and equipment manager Mitch Poole is probably getting ready to cover the lockers in the clubhouse to protect them from the champagne.

And so here we are, ninth inning, Kershaw's incredible performance putting the Dodgers in the position to claim the Dodger Stadium advantage throughout the playoffs.

Everyone on their feet, two strikes, fly ball to the guy who helped as much as any to get them this far, Andre Ethier igniting the team party just beyond the mound and in front of second base.

Vin Scully is at the microphone adding to the chills.

Torre meets his wife behind home plate and places a division championship cap on the head of his daughter.

"We love you," he tells the fans.

Up on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard in big letters, it reads, "We Believed."

Of course, you did.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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