Dodgers' party just getting started
Long road leads to World of opportunity for Kasten, Colletti, Mattingly
PHOENIX -- The Dodgers' hierarchy waded into the party Thursday in the visitors' clubhouse just as a group of players ignored a request from the D-backs and leapt over the right-center-field fence into the Chase Field pool.
Boys will be boys, and the raucous celebration of winning their first National League West title since 2009 was on.
Anyone who thought this one would be more subdued with the playoffs now secure and on the horizon was badly mistaken. Covered from head to toe with bubbly were club president Stan Kasten, general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly.
"This was very cool," Kasten said after the Dodgers came from behind to secure a 7-6 win and the division title on a go-ahead homer by A.J. Ellis in the eighth and two homers earlier in the game by Hanley Ramirez. "We know it's only the first step, but it's a really, really important one. And we couldn't be happier."
Asked how long it had been since he partook in this kind of celebration, Kasten added: "The last one? I can't even remember. Too long ago. All I know is the most recent one is right now, and that's all that matters."
Just to refresh his memory, Kasten went through 12 of these when he was president of the Braves, the last one in 2003, his final season with the organization. Along the way, the Braves won five NL pennants and the 1995 World Series.
But for Kasten, it never gets old.
"You can't ever be in this game so long that this isn't special; it's always special," he said.
This one was hard fought and a bit treacherous to get to, as the Dodgers have gone 5-10 in their last 15 games. That might explain why the players, many of them veterans of other such affairs, became uncorked like the bottles of champagne they sprayed around the room.
The Dodgers went into this week's four-game series needing a split with the feisty D-backs, who did not fold despite their elimination and current deficit of 10 1/2 games. The D-backs built a 6-3 lead with a six-spot in the third that the Dodgers whittled away until Ramirez tied it with his bolt off Chaz Roe to open the seventh and Ellis belted his shot off Josh Collmenter to lead off the eighth.
It all came down to the last inning and final pitch from closer Kenley Jansen, the title secure only when Aaron Hill flied out to Skip Schumaker in left. Schumaker clutched the ball, and the team made a mad dash to begin the celebration around second base on the D-backs' turf.
"This week has just been a crazy week; we had to keep it together," said Mattingly, whose job was under siege as the team struggled through injuries and poor play during the opening two months of the season. "There's been so much going on and so much you're trying to deal with and block out. And now we can just say, 'Hey, we're there. We did it.' And it's just a great feeling to be able to accomplish this the way we've been able to do it."
Mattingly desperately wants to savor that feeling. Over the 14 seasons that Mattingly, an All-Star first baseman, spent with the Yankees, the club did not make it to the playoffs until 1995, the year he retired.
Those Yanks were eliminated by the Mariners in a five-game American League Division Series, and Mattingly wound up missing the era of Yankees greatness that began with a World Series win the very next year. As a coach under manager Joe Torre for most of the seasons from 2003-10, Mattingly had his share of postseason successes in both New York and Los Angeles, but those teams never won the World Series while he was with them.
Ditto Colletti, who was an assistant general manager under Brian Sabean in San Francisco when the Giants lost the 2002 World Series in seven games to the Angels. This is the fourth time in Colletti's eight seasons as Dodgers general manager that his club has made the playoffs, but so far they have fallen short of the World Series, losing twice to the Phillies in the NL Championship Series (2008-09), both times in five games, and losing to the Mets in the 2006 NL Division Series in three games.
This year's team, in its first full season under new ownership that purchased the club last year for $2.15 billion, had a player payroll well above $200 million and a mountain of expectations.
"You feel happy for a lot of people, who worked hard, who continued to stay the course through a bunch of injuries off and on," Colletti said. "We've been through a number of them in the last few weeks. It's truly a team sport. Whenever you have a chance to get to a postseason, it's because of a lot of people. The guys in the room really stayed with it. They went through a lot, like any team does.
"We stuck through our plan through thick and thin. Sometimes the toughest thing to have is patience. And you've got to have patience. If you don't have patience, you're going to end up making mistakes. We just had to stay the course and have faith in what we had."
The Dodgers were poised to either win or fall hard. They certainly party hard. Though it is but an important first step, as Kasten said, the Dodgers are now just a quarter of the way there, with three grueling postseason rounds ahead.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.