FROM PITTSBURGH — His voice cracking, Joe Torre sits behind a plastic glass of champagne Saturday night pronouncing himself "the luckiest guy in the world."
The Dodgers have clinched a playoff berth, the magic number two to make it back-to-back division titles, and then the champagne will really fly.
"But this still chokes me up," Torre says, 14 straight years now as a manager qualifying for the playoffs, a player who played in 2,209 games, but never once making it into the postseason.
"After sitting home in October as a player, what has happened to me the last 14 years is absolutely amazing."
He has already made his way around the clubhouse in his stocking feet, glass in one hand while hugging his players, including catcher Russell Martin, lifted in a critical situation so Andre Ethier might take his place.
"I didn't have to say anything to him," he says. "I could see that just from his reaction."
It speaks to the respect Torre commands, doing whatever it takes to win. But more than that, there's no question he has the touch -- winning more postseason games than any other manager in major league history, and maybe about to add some more.
"After we won the '96 World Series, I remember my wife saying, 'There it is,' " and he sits back in his managerial chair and shakes his head. "I told her, 'Let's see if we can do it again.' "
His Yankees stint over, he starts all over again in Los Angeles, and he's done it again. Well, almost. . . .
SEVEN HOURS before clinching a playoff berth, it's raining, the stadium almost empty here, Ethier and Matt Kemp doing their best to accommodate a USA Today photographer who wants them to pose as the "dynamic duo."
"Batman and Robin," Either says in agreement, while offering no hint which of the Caped Crusaders he might be.
Right now there might be no separating them, co-MVPs on this Dodgers team on the brink of winning a division title, two emerging talents about to be discovered nationally.
"You guys weren't even starters two years ago," they are reminded, Ethier quicker with the response.
"I wasn't a starter until last June," he says, while waving a Matt Kemp bat for the photographer.
They are inseparable, all right -- they use the same bat.
"His is the same weight as mine, but longer and different wood. Ash," says Ethier, who has asked the team's equipment manager to order some more -- with Kemp's name on them again.
What about his own bats? "Burned them," Ethier says.
And when did Ethier make this switch to Kemp's bat? "When he started hitting those bombs," Kemp says, the two combining for 57 home runs and 204 RBIs this season, and if only Manny Ramirez would pick up a Kemp bat once in awhile and give it a try.
YOU COME across athletes like Kemp and Ethier, and it really is the best thing about being a sports writer, the games all blending together after a while, but nothing like being there in the beginning to watch young talent develop.
Kemp was so raw. "I haven't done anything on the bases stupid this year other than maybe once or twice," he says with a grin. "I'm learning."
Either was so overlooked. "I don't think I'm that good of a player," he says. "Obviously I wasn't given the job and told to go out and have fun when I came up. I had to prove myself, and I know the day after we win the championship I will have to go home and start working again to prove myself."
It's now just minutes after the Dodgers have clinched a berth in the playoffs, a champagne toast for everyone and off to the side, in front of video machines showing at-bat after at-bat, are Ethier and Kemp.
It explains in part why Ethier is now the guy everyone is looking for with the game on the line, "preparation," he says in explaining his success, and why six times this season he's sent everyone home happy with a Dodgers victory.
The extra work coupled with the potential that Kemp already packs promises so many more Dodgers highlights, beginning with his desire this postseason not to be overwhelmed.
"I'm nervous before every game," he says. "The postseason, though, is something else. But I was there last year and I will be ready for it."
It's only a matter of time, of course, and the inevitable arrival of fame, which is just as interesting to watch as blossoming talent.
"I think [the attention] is pretty cool," Kemp says, but makes it clear he will never need a larger hat to cover a head too big. "Can't let it happen, won't let it happen.
"You don't know my grandma," he says with admiration.
STARDOM HANGS right there for Kemp, Torre admitting, "I never envisioned him getting to this point this soon -- just the consistency of his at-bats."
As for Ethier, "there is a gift there," Torre says. "He still goes through valleys when he gets frustrated, kind of a woe-is-me thing, yeah, woe is me -- 103 RBI."
Ethier is the one with the temper, Kemp the one with the dance moves before a game starts.
"I see the little kids jumping up and down before the game and I just get into it," he says.
Kemp is a basketball player before he fully embraces baseball, Ethier the guy initially deemed not good enough to play for Arizona State.
How funny is that when you consider where the Dodgers would be now without him?
"This year is satisfying, sure, but I'll have to do it all over again," Ethier says and enough is never enough.
"I'm hungry," is the way Kemp puts it. "I've seen how much love the really good players in this game get, the cars they drive, and I'd like some of that."
It's all there for the taking, now everyone in L.A. witnesses to stars possibly in the making, the postseason stage where it really can happen big.