Friday, September 20, 2013

Dodgers are NL West Champs (And Everybody's Celebrating)

I remember watching the Dodgers this spring and thinking this year was going to be terrible. But you want to know the moment when I first had hope they could turn it around? June 7 against the Braves when they were still meandering in last place.

I was there with my church during the humble beginnings of the Yasiel Puig era. Puig hit a game-tying home run while I was at the concession stands and despite leaving guys on base, the team won in extra innings for their first walkoff of the season. The season was still bleak but I had hope that Puig was going to be some kind of spark.

Fast forward three months later. The Dodgers clinched the division and they're celebrating in the Arizona Diamondbacks pool like kids. Don Mattingly held back tears talking about how great this team was and how resilient they were. Hanley Ramirez finally gets to taste the postseason and played like he wanted it going 4-4 with two home runs.

And in true Dodger fashion, AJ Ellis provided the surprising biggest blow with the go-ahead home run. I listened on the radio and could only smile.

Again, let me remind what things were like three months ago. Mattingly was nearly fired in June. Matt Kemp was hurt. Nobody besides Adrian Gonzalez was consistently producing. Clayton Kershaw wasn't getting run support. It was a high-priced team with nothing to show for it.

Then guys started hitting and getting healthy. Kershaw got support and showed why he's going to win his 2nd Cy Young in 3 years. Puig blossomed into the best rookie Dodgers hitter I've seen in years. Ricky Nolasco came home and was lights out on the mound. Zach Greinke rediscovered his Cy Young form. Hanley Ramirez played like the offensive catalyst he was in Florida. The Dodgers bullpen was lights out with aid from unknowns like Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow.

So you know what? Let them celebrate. They had a stretch this summer that was one of the all-time hot streaks in baseball history. They had several improbable wins (hi, Tampa Bay). They got unlikely guys to show up and ball out. They earned this moment and it was fitting doing in the stadium of a team they literally fought with all season.

Even though Kirk Gibson stood in the opposing dugout, I know he could appreciate this team. The Dodgers may have a high payroll but they're scrappy. They go to work every night and fight for runs then rely on their pitching to do the rest. It's the spirit of 1988 and while Gibson hated to see his team lose, his Dodger blood is probably smiling because he saw a team that fought as hard as he did as a player.

I know the NL West isn't the end all, be all. But from being one of the worst teams in baseball to being the first team to clinch a postseason berth is pretty amazing. For the first time in four years, I get to watch October baseball in Los Angeles and I couldn't be happier.

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