The Dodgers now believe in ritual sacrifice. If Nick Punto can celebrate the end of the game by shredding one of his teammates' jerseys more than just a couple times, the Dodgers just might win the National League West after all.
As A.J. Ellis rounded first base with a walk-off single Monday, Punto stormed out of the Dodgers dugout and charged toward Ellis. Punto clawed at Ellis' jersey until it came off, then danced away with the trendiest item in L.A. sports fashion.
The shredded shirt commemorates the walk-off victory, and the Dodgers have two of each within the last two days. Andre Ethier hit a ninth-inning home run to send Monday's game into extra innings, Ellis singled with two out in the 11th inning to win it, and the Dodgers completed a 4-3 victory over the San Diego Padres.
The Dodgers remained 41/2 games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West, half a game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second and final NL wild-card spot. The Dodgers have six games left with the Giants, including three this weekend in San Francisco, and the Dodgers have not let the Giants out of their sights.
"We have a chance to go up there and close the gap pretty quickly," Ethier said.
Manager Don Mattingly said he has juggled his rotation for the weekend, pushing back Joe Blanton so Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw each can start in San Francisco.
Dodgers President Stan Kasten walked into the press box before the game, saw a television tuned to the Angels game, and walked out so he could find another television on which to watch the Giants game.
The new and supposedly improved Dodgers are starting to resemble the old and supposedly overmatched Dodgers, the ones that stormed the NL West in improbable fashion early this season. The Dodgers have won three consecutive games, each by one run, for the first time since June 4-6.
In those three games, the Dodgers started two players still in the starting lineup: Ellis and Ethier. That was three short months ago, but close to half the clubhouse has turned over since then.
"The feeling of knowing we can win these games late is starting to be fortified," Ethier said.
The Dodgers are 3-0 in September, a good start to what they hope will be a great finish.
"A couple guys in the clubhouse have started calling it the fourth quarter," Ellis said, and not just because the NFL season starts this week. "This is when winning players come out. This is when winning teams come out."
Luis Cruz had the first four-hit game of his career Monday; he and Matt Kemp are the Dodgers' only .300 hitters. Hanley Ramirez hit his 10th home run in 38 games with the Dodgers.
Ethier hit his 16th home run to tie the score with one out in the ninth inning, then singled and scored the winning run in the 11th, when Ellis drove him in. Punto, whose nickname is "The Shredder," promptly joined the mob circling Ellis and ripped off his shirt.
Punto says he has celebrated walk-off victories that way since 2006, happily paying $150 to replace each mangled jersey. He even got David Freese during the Cardinals' improbable Game 6 victory in last year's World Series.
"His jersey is in the Hall of Fame," Punto said, "but it's torn up in pieces."