LOS ANGELES -- For the first time in two decades, the Dodgers popped champagne corks in October.
With a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 3 of their National
League division series Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers
completed a three-game sweep of the team that had the league's best
record in the regular season and won their first playoff series since
claiming the 1988 World Series.
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In front of 56,000 towel-waving fans who chanted "Sweep! Sweep!" as
they counted down the final outs, the Dodgers surged into the NL
Championship Series behind a two-run double in the first inning by
James Loney and a four-out save by Jonathan Broxton.
"This is a great step for the organization," said General Manager Ned
Colletti, who was about to get a bottle of beer poured on his head by
backup catcher Danny Ardoin.
Though there haven't been many celebrations in these parts in recent
years -- the Dodgers had won only one playoff game in the last two
decades -- the postgame scene in the home clubhouse felt familiar.
Third baseman Casey Blake, a 35-year-old from Iowa who listens to
country music, had heard M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" so many times in
recent weeks that he was singing the words to the Dodgers' victory song
that was being looped on the clubhouse stereo system.
"It's good when you hear this song," said the bearded Blake, bopping
his head to the hip-hop beat. "It means we're getting ready to play or
that we've won."
The start of Game 3 looked like a continuation of the first two games
in Chicago, as Russell Martin doubled off Cubs starter Rich Harden with
one out in the first and moved to third on a single by Manny Ramirez.
Andre Ethier struck out, but Loney lined a double to right that drove
in Martin and Ramirez, who slid by catcher Geovany Soto and tapped home
plate with his left hand. Nearby, third base coach Larry Bowa leaped
and pumped his fist. Everywhere in the stands, white hand towels were
Martin said that in a short pregame meeting Manager Joe Torre told them: "Bring the game to them. Be aggressive."
"That's what we did," Martin said.
And the Dodgers were on their way.
Hiroki Kuroda protected the 2-0 lead, but it wasn't easy. Credited with
6 1/3 scoreless innings, he was in almost constant danger.
Kuroda gave up a two-out double to Derrek Lee and walked Aramis Ramirez
in the first, escaping by forcing Soto to ground out to third.
He gave up two-out singles to Mike Fontenot and Lee two innings later,
again escaping by forcing a grounder to third, this one by Ramirez.
Soto hit a double to start the fifth and moved to third on a groundout by Jim Edmonds.
Blake was playing deep when Mark DeRosa hit a grounder to him, but Soto
didn't run on contact and remained on the corner as DeRosa was thrown
Kuroda intentionally walked Ryan Theriot to get to Harden, and the towels came out after the pitcher struck out.