LOS ANGELES - The Dodgers clinched their first NL West championship in four years Thursday without lifting a bat.
Entering the day with a magic number of one, the Dodgers got what they needed when the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks lost 12-3 at St. Louis in the afternoon. That was several hours before Los Angeles faced the San Diego Padres in its final home game of the regular season.
“It’s fine with me we don’t have to do it on the field,” first-year Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. “I’m just happy we did it. I’m very proud of this team. Going to the playoffs never gets old.”
Torre guided the New York Yankees to four World Series titles and 12 playoff appearances in as many years before leaving the team last fall. He was then hired by the Dodgers, signing a three-year $13 million contract.
Torre said he received a text message of congratulations from Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin.
“He’s a class act,” Torre said, adding that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called as well to offer his best wishes.
Torre gave credit to his players for winning the division.
“Anytime a manager thinks that he’s responsible for something that players do, he’s a little deluded,” the 68-year-old skipper said. “I just try to get everybody thinking and going in the same direction and being on the same page. That’s my job, trying to put out fires here and there. My job is to keep people focused.
“I never envisioned myself at 67, 68 years old going somewhere new to start over — and I’m glad I did it.”
Torre said he watched the final inning of the Diamondbacks’ loss in his office with his wife, general manager Ned Colletti and Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt.
“I’m relieved and ecstatic at the same time,” Colletti said. “I’m proud of the team, proud of what they’ve gone through this year and how they came together the last four or five weeks. They fought through a lot of adversity.”
Manny Ramirez found out the Dodgers qualified for the playoffs from a reporter after he entered an elevator to the team’s clubhouse with teammate Pablo Ozuna about an hour after the Diamondbacks lost.
“It’s good, but it’s just the first step,” said Ramirez, who has played so well since joining the Dodgers less than two months ago that there’s been MVP talk. “We’re happy, but we’re not going to go crazy about it. The goal is to go to the big dance, the World Series. This is not a championship yet.
“Not a lot of players get a chance to go to the playoffs in their career. I’ve been blessed. You want to win it all. That’s when you get that feeling you can’t describe, like we had in Boston.”
The Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004, with Ramirez winning the MVP award, and won it again last year. But Ramirez wanted out a few months back, and got his wish, being sent to the Dodgers at the trade deadline.
“The sky’s the limit. You never know,” he said of the Dodgers’ chances. “We’re a pretty good team. Anything can happen.”
The Dodgers have won just one postseason game since winning the World Series 20 years ago, going 1-12 in four playoff appearances. They’ll face either the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies or New York Mets on the road to begin the first round next week.
The Dodgers were in trouble after losing their eighth straight game Aug. 29, a 9-3 setback at Arizona that gave the Diamondbacks a 4½-game lead in the division. But with Ramirez leading the way, they entered Thursday night’s game having won 18 of their prior 23 games, including five straight over the Diamondbacks.
Ramirez was hitting .398 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 50 games with the Dodgers entering Thursday night.
Casey Blake and Nomar Garciaparra were among several players in the clubhouse when the Diamondbacks’ game ended, more than 4½ hours before the Dodgers’ suddenly meaningless game against the Padres began.
“It feels outstanding,” said Blake, another midseason acquisition. “You get brought over to do a job. It looked pretty bleak there for a while. We turned it around.”
About clinching the title without playing, Blake said: “However it happened, we’ll take it.”
Second baseman Jeff Kent, whose postseason status has been in question since he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Sept. 2, said the real fun starts when the playoffs begins.
“You work out in the offseason, you fight through eight months of a baseball season and get to a point where you play five or seven games against someone to find out if you’re better,” he said. “I’m going to try and enjoy the moment and help my teammates make something happen.”
The 40-year-old Kent, who singled as a pinch hitter Wednesday night in his first action since undergoing surgery, has said for years the main reason he plays is to be part of a championship team. He came close in 2002 as a member of the San Francisco Giants, who lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Angels in seven games.
Opening-day starters Kent and shortstop Rafael Furcal were in starting lineup Thursday night, although Torre said they would only play an inning or two. Furcal missed 125 games with back problems before appearing as a pinch hitter Wednesday night. His status for the postseason is uncertain as well.
Angel Berroa, who began the season in the Kansas City organization, and Blake DeWitt, the opening-day starter at third base in his major league debut, have been the starters at shortstop and second base, respectively, since the Dodgers began their turnaround Aug. 30.
Greg Maddux, scheduled to start against the Padres, was replaced by rookie left-hander Eric Stults. Torre said Derek Lowe will pitch Friday night, Maddux will go Saturday night and Hiroki Kuroda will pitch Sunday afternoon in San Francisco to complete the regular season. Although Torre hasn’t made it official, Lowe seems a sure bet to pitch the playoff opener.