Thursday, September 19, 2013

A.J.'s solo shot gives the Dodgers the NL West crown!

Jump for joy! First NL West crown since '09.

It took a big start, a huge meltdown, and a big solo homer for the Dodgers to seal the deal.  Add it all up, and a 7-6 win over the Diamondbacks gives the Dodgers their first NL West crown in four years!  They're also the first team to clinch a division championship, as they now set their sights on the postseason.

This was not a typical National League game featuring great pitching and low scoring.  No indeed.  Rather, Ricky Nolasco and Wade Miley were both very fortunate to not be hung with loses by the time this one was over.

Neither team scored through two, though both did put runners on in each frame.  If you thought that Nolasco and Miley were going to settle in and the game would fly right by, then you would've been badly mistaken.

Miley's downfall started in the third when he walked Nolasco leading off.  Yasiel Puig also walked.  Jerry Hairston blooped a hit into right, but then Puig remembered he was Puig, and somehow got thrown out at second to officially turn the hit into a fielder's choice.  Ugh. 

Then Hanley Ramirez turned the Dodgers' frown upside down with a three-run bomb to left, and it was 3-0.  That would not be the last we'd hear from him on this day.

Nolasco was coming off a very rough start at home against the Giants last Saturday, a game that the rivals ended up winning 19-3.  For as good as he's been since the trade, he looked every bit as bad as he was last start in the third.

Two straight singles by Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollack were only a sign of things to come.  Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run ground rule double to make it 3-2, and then the game was tied on an RBI triple from Martin Prado.

Aaron Hill struck out for the first out, but an RBI single by Miguel Montero gave the DBacks a 4-3 lead.  Then Miley of all people rubbed salt in the wound with a two-run double with two outs, and the DBacks were in control up 6-3.

It was obvious at this point the Dodgers needed their offense to carry them, and their bullpen to at least keeps things manageable if they wanted to clinch.  That started to happen in the sixth.  Juan Uribe, who again had a great game at the hot corner, doubled leading off, and scored on Scott Van Slyke's RBI double.  Michael Young scored the other run on a sac-fly, and it was 6-5.

The Dodgers rank 24th in the majors in home runs, trailing lowly teams like the Padres and Twins.  So, banking on the long ball to get the lead back wasn't a sure thing.  However, Ramirez reminded everyone just how deadly he is when he's at the plate with a solo homer leading off the seventh, and just like that, the game was tied at 6-6.

Brandon League got through the seventh unharmed, and was able to start the seventh by getting Hill to ground out.  J.P. Howell then came in, and despite a walk to Didi Gregorius and a wild pitch, got the next two outs.

Just like the previous inning, the Dodgers started the eighth with a bang as Ellis hit his eighth homer.  Heck, he even appeared pumped up coming into the dugout, something you rarely see from him.

With the way runs have been scored in bunches this series, everyone knew this one wasn't nearly over yet.  Brian Wilson came in for Howell in the eighth and was fantastic, getting the DBacks in order.

The last bit of drama was in the ninth, as Kenley Jansen was given the ball for the save, and the powerful Goldschmidt stepped to the plate.  Jansen made quick work of him with a three-pitch strikeout, then got Prado swinging, and ended things when Hill flew out to Skip Schumaker in left.

Game over.  NL West title won.  Playoff ticket punched.

Three months into the season at the start of July, the Dodgers were in dead last place in the NL West, five games under .500.  Since then it's been a combination of much better health, great starting pitching, much-improved relief work, and one clutch hit after another that has been the winning recipe for the boys in blue.  Has this been fun to watch or what?

With nine game left in the regular season, the Dodgers have two obvious goals.  The first is to get as healthy as can be, all while giving their pitchers just enough work to stay fresh.  The second is to go after home field, as they're still within striking distance of that.  They're bunched up with the Braves, Pirates, Reds, and Cardinals for the top spot, with about three games separating everyone.

For now the Dodgers will enjoy the riches of already clinching the division.  They'll also have to get dry after invading that ridiculous pool the DBacks have in center.  How great was it to watch some of those guys jump in?  I love it!  Arizona is Dodger Country tonight.

Then it'll be off to San Diego for three, with Edinson Volquez going Friday, followed by Clayton Kerhsaw and Zack Greinke.

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