(Okay, maybe I exaggerate. Gibson's homer in the '88 Series is still probably the best. Still...)
I gotta admit, I was worried. Like really worried. The Dodgers' offense over the last week has been having a hard time finding its way to the ballpark, showing up only in the late innings. Colorado's starters, none of whom are gonna make anyone forget Randy Johnson, were manhandling Dodger hitters. Fortunately, the offense did eventually make it through the traffic around Dodger Stadium in time for the last inning in most of the games. They tied it in the eighth and won it with a run in the ninth on Monday. They scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth Tuesday night to win 5-4. The offense never did show up Wednesday, wasting a magnificent eight-inning, four-hit pitching performance by Odalis Perez. Thursday it didn't show up until the twelfth, coming from the most unlikely source of all. David Ross, a catcher hitting .169, (45 points under his weight), hit only his fifth homer of the year to win the game.
Ross's homer was a big one. It meant that all the Dodgers needed to do to win the division this weekend was win one game. One lousy game over the Giants.
The best the Giants could hope for coming in was that if they swept the three games, they would force a one-game playoff with the Dodgers up in SBC Park for the division championship. Weaver started Friday night, and threw his usual game, three runs over seven innings Unfortunately, the offense never showed up, and the Dodgers lost the opener.
Saturday's game presented a problem for Jim Tracy. He didn't have anyone to start it. The starters available were Nomo and Jackson, both of whom got clobbered in their previous outings. Nomo's been terrible all year, and his career is probably done. Jackson is still too inexperienced to put into this spot. Tracy decided to go with pitcher by committee. He started Elmer Dessens, who was picked up on a waiver deal with Arizona in August. Dessens was a starter with his previous teams, so the choice wasn't completely out of the blue. He did okay, giving up two runs in four innings. The bullpen held the Giants to only one run the rest of the way, so all-in-all, the pitching gamble paid off. Unfortunately, the offense was still MIA. The Dodgers were making Brett Tomko, the Giants' starter, look like the second coming of Juan Marichal.
And then it's the bottom of the ninth, and the Dodgers are down 3-0, with just three outs left. The Giants bring in Cody Ransom as a defensive replacement for Deivi Cruz. Dustin Hermanson is pitching for the Giants, facing Shawn Green. Green works the count to 3-1, then hits a little looper to left that falls just inches in front of a sliding Barry Bonds. Up next, Robin Ventura walks on a 3-2 count. Alex Cora, who has been the hero so often, strikes out. One out, David Ross due up. Despite the home run Thursday, Ross is still hitting 25 points under the Mendoza line, so Tracy sends up Jose Hernandez to pinch hit. Hermanson runs the count to 3-2, but loses Hernandez, who walks to load the bases with the pitcher due up. Hee-Seop Choi pinch hits for the pitcher (Brazoban at this point). Choi has been an utter failure since coming over in the Lo Duca trade, but the Dodgers are running out of players. Hermanson gets ahead of him quickly, 1-2, but then, wonder of wonders, he throws three straight balls, and Choi walks, forcing in Green for the first Dodger run. Christiansen relieves Hermanson, Cesar Izturis comes to the plate.
Did you wonder why I mentioned Cody Ransom earlier? It's called foreshadowing. Izturis hits a soft ground ball towards Ransom at short. Ransom bends down to field it, and then straightens up to throw to second, hoping to start a game-ending double play. Except the ball is still down on the ground, laying there at his feet. Everyone is safe, and another run is in. Herges Relieves Christiansen, and Jayson Werth comes to the plate. One of the reasons the Dodgers weren't able to obtain Randy Johnson from the Diamondbacks is because Arizona demanded that Werth be part of the deal. To his credit, DePodesta refused to go along, and Werth has played well. Werth gets the count to 2-2, fouls off a couple of pitches, then smokes a line drive to center field that scores Hernandez, tying the game. Unfortunately, he hit it too sharply to score the game winner. That's okay. Franklin relieves Herges.
Steve Finley comes to the plate. Finley is the only player the Dodgers received in the infamous end of July trades that has actually panned out. He's been a clutch hitter down the stretch, with 13 homers and 46 RBI in only 57 games since the trade. He takes a called strike from Franklin, and then crushes the second pitch. He knows the instant he hits it that it's gone. He stands there for that instant with his bat still pointing towards right-center, then releases it from both hands simultaneously so that it just drops straight down as he pumps his arms up over his head in triumph. Grand slam. Dodgers win 7-3, and take the division for the first time since Peter O'Malley sold the team to Fox.
Man, this team is aging me...