Before the Los Angeles Dodgers were NL West champions, back when they were bloated and fragile and overpaid and under-managed, the views of them ranged from apocalyptic ballpark event to mere tire fire. These opinions were not undeserved, given nearly half-a-season had been played. Generally, at that point, you are what you are.
So it surely came with some pleasure Thursday afternoon for these Dodgers, same as those Dodgers, that they went about building a blue-gray heap of themselves on the climate-controlled infield at Chase Field.
From the chill of bankruptcy…
From the appearance of good money after bad…
From a disabled list as long as Ned Colletti's memory…
From Don Mattingly with a foot out the door…
From 9½ games back and dead in the water…
When they'd become the first team to claim a spot in the 2013 postseason, and the fourth to finish in first place after being in last on July 1 or later, they laughed and tried not to cry and cannon-balled the pool in right-center field.
"It's a great feeling," Mattingly told reporters in Phoenix. "For what's happened to us this year, a lot of expectations, horrible start, looked terrible, but the guys stuck together."
Or, as third-base coach Tim Wallach said, "We wanted to be the team that we were supposed to be."
That was the hard part. They spiked the payroll. They filled the ballpark. They lined up the reputations. They tried to corral Puig.
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And at first they wondered how it could be so bad, right up until the moment they became so good, and lit up an L.A. summer with smart at-bats and quality starts. By the end, they'd seemed to have rebuilt everything, starting with their self-esteem.
In the second half, which carried a large portion of the 53-13 run that changed everything, the Dodgers were outscored only by the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals. They were outpitched by no one. And they were the first to clinch.
So it came to be that in front of a stoic Kirk Gibson, Ramirez hit two home runs and drove in four runs, A.J. Ellis homered to break a 6-6 tie, the bullpen was nearly perfect for four innings, and Jansen threw a 1-and-1 fastball that Aaron Hill lofted to Skip Schumaker in left field.
One-hundred-and-fifty-three games in, 81 after it had all seemingly begun to smolder and burn, the Dodgers were – so far – what they were supposed to be. They were NL West champs. For 10 days they'll nurse mostly minor stuff with Ramirez, Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. Then in the playoffs they'll lead with Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
[Yahoo Sports Fan Shop: Buy NL West championship gear]
It looks OK. Amazingly, it looks OK.
"I measure people with how they go through adversity," Colletti said in Phoenix, "and then how they come out of it."
And then when they land, in that pool at Chase Field, how big the splash.
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