Players revel in prize at end of grind
Stretch of 18 wins in 23 games helped secure NL West crown
LOS ANGELES -- About a month ago, the Dodgers' visiting clubhouses in Philadelphia and Washington could not be any different than the scene playing out Thursday night at Dodger Stadium.Instead of joyous screams and champagne and beer spraying every which way, the Dodgers quietly undressed and ate their postgame meal alone while players like Casey Blake spoke in hushed tones about how the Dodgers were going to be OK. It may have been hard to believe at the time, but after pulling off a run of 18 wins in 23 games at the conclusion of that trip's eight-game losing streak, the Dodgers were more than OK. They were National League West champions. "I've been around the game long enough to know that all good teams go through times like that," Blake said. "I think it helped our team grow a little bit, and it helped make us the team that we are now." Catcher Russell Martin, one of the young leaders of the Dodgers, noted it's been a great ride for the club, which looked nothing like a playoff team for much of the season. But the Dodgers stayed just close enough in a weak division that their hot September led to Thursday night's wild celebration of champagne, beer, milk, Gatorade, water and anything else the players could get their hands on to dump over each other. "We knew we had to step it up," Martin said. "Normally, the team that steps it up in September is going to make it the postseason, and we were that team in our division. We just have to keep playing like we've been playing. It's a grind the whole year, but we found a way to get there, and that's what counts." Andre Ethier also took satisfaction in the way Los Angeles battled all year, spending more than five months in second place only to take over first during the first week of September and never look back.
"We kept tugging along and never really for the most part skipped a beat," Ethier said. "We kept going and kept our confidence high, and to win the West, that's a great feeling. I didn't really think about it or realize it until it happened today to see what a great feat it actually is to be one of the top three teams to win their division."James Loney, who wore a "We love Manny being Manny" T-shirt during the postgame festivities, experienced this feeling as a rookie on the 2006 Wild Card-winning Dodgers, but he said this one means a little bit more because he's been a mainstay at first base, leading the club in RBIs this season whereas in 2006 he was just getting his feet wet playing in 48 games. Jeff Kent watched the youthful exuberance of his teammates during the celebration, at least 12 of whom have never reached the playoffs, and spoke of how the club believed in itself throughout the year and kept faith in the clubhouse even when those outside the locker room doubted the Dodgers. "It's a grind, 162 games you play, so it's special," Kent said. "For us to maintain and be stable throughout the course of the year was something I knew we had to do if we were going to win it." Nomar Garciaparra, a 12-year veteran who has reached four previous Octobers, said he appreciates every postseason trip because a player never knows how many times he will be lucky enough to reach postseason play. For Garciaparra, this champagne and beer bath was just as special as the others he's enjoyed in his career. "It's a big thing," Garciaparra said. "The important thing is we've set out a goal this year, and this is the first step to try to achieve that goal. For me, it's great. I never take any of these times getting into the playoffs for granted. You appreciate them all."
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.