With the Dodgers’ inevitable seventh consecutive NL West title just one Los Angeles win, or one Arizona loss away, the champagne is very much on ice and ready for a celebration.
Magic number: 1?? pic.twitter.com/zhv5P08Woc
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 10, 2019
While we play the short waiting game, let’s take a quick look back at every division clincher of the past decade.
The Rockies on Clinch Date: October 3, 2009
For so much of 2009, the Dodgers winning the NL West didn’t seem to be in doubt as they piled on walk-off onto another. But in August and September, their once sizable lead shrank to as low as two games on September 11 as the Colorado Rockies enjoyed a late-season surge.
Thus, the Dodgers would have to wait until October 3 to seal the deal, the latest division clincher in franchise history. But it was worth it, blanking the Rockies 5-0 at home for the second division crown in a row. 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw, showing the majesty soon to come, tossed six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts.
However, it was Hong-Chih Kuo who got the win, as the Dodgers scored all five of their runs in the seventh. Matt Kemp, Ronnie Belliard, Manny Ramirez, Mark Loretta, and Juan Pierre knocked in one RBI each. George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton closed it out with a scoreless inning apiece.
The Diamondbacks on Clinch Date: September 19, 2013
It’s weird to think it would be four whole years before the Dodgers would make the playoffs again, let alone win a division title. Those four years were made all the longer by the franchise’s descent into the McCourt nadir, as well as the hated Giants winning two World Series.
But the 2013 team made it worth the wait. Not only did they rattle off a 42-8 run in the summer to lift themselves out of the cellar, but they sealed the division with a deliciously outrageous stunt. The game itself was satisfying enough, a come-from-behind 7-6 win over the Diamondbacks in Arizona. After starter Ricky Nolasco coughed up six runs to put them behind 6-3, they roared back, tying and taking the lead in the late innings on respective solo shots from Hanley Ramirez and A.J. Ellis.
What ensued after the final out, however, is what lives on in Dodger lore. The team jogged out to the pool in left field at Chase Field, and proceeded to splash around like high schoolers at a summer party.
Was it infantile and smug? Absolutely. But when you rattle off one of the greatest runs in the history of the game, and take a first step to cleansing the bile of Frank McCourt, you’ve earned the right to cut loose accordingly. The Diamondbacks certainly didn’t feel the same way: when the teams met in the 2017 NLDS, they summoned horse-mounted cops to prevent another poolside indulgence.
The Giants on Clinch Date: September 24, 2014
2014 didn’t feature any pool-diving hijinks, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying. After another slow start, the Dodgers surged again in the summer thanks to the historic royalty of Clayton Kershaw’s MVP season. Thus, it was only fitting he single-handedly wrap up the NL West by himself against none other than the Giants.
In his final start of the season, he sealed his record at 21-3 with eight innings and 11 strikeouts, allowing just one earned run. To pile it on, he added to the offense’s nine-run onslaught with an RBI triple in the fifth. When he was lifted in favor of Brian Wilson (yes, Brian Wilson), Dodger Stadium shook to its foundation with chants of “MVP! MVP!”
For this writer, 2014 is the division-sealer with the greatest personal resonance. I was in Olympia, Washington on a trip to visit my best friend Bridget. Clad in my Josh Beckett shirt, I jogged all the way down from the house she lived at to a grungy local bar downtown to catch the game. Chatting with a few locals disgruntled about the Mariners, I savored every moment of the game before triumphantly jogging back to the house that night.
Beyond my personal memories, though, this one unfortunately carries the least objective weight in retrospect. Not only would the team be eliminated in the first round by St. Louis, with Clayton Kershaw getting tagged in two losses that gave birth to The Narrative; the Giants, the team they easily dispatched to win the west, won their third World Series in five years.
The Giants on Clinch Date: September 29, 2015
The 2015 season was quite a grind, with an inconsistent offense, a horrible bullpen, and a clear disconnect between manager Don Mattingly and the new analytics-driven front office. But the grind was made worth it by this 8-0 destruction of Madison Bumgarner and the Giants, in San Francisco no less. Clayton Kershaw emphatically capped off another legendary season with 13 strikeouts in nine complete innings, allowing just one hit. Enrique Hernandez, A.J. Ellis and Justin Ruggiano (remember him?) all exploded for home runs.
With this win, history was made. Despite many playoff appearances over decades, this was the first time the franchise made the postseason for the third consecutive year.
The Rockies on Clinch Date: September 25, 2016
The undisputed greatest playoff clincher in the entire history of the Dodgers franchise. How could it not be? First, the Dodgers, despite a record-setting flurry of injuries all season long, had battled back while the Giants threatened the worst collapse in MLB history. Now they had a chance to win a hard-fought crown on none other than Vin Scully’s last ever home game as an announcer, opposite a subpar Rockies team.
Towards the end, it looked like the Dodgers would blasphemously squander that occasion. David Dahl took Kenley Jansen deep in the top of the ninth to put Colorado up 3-2. Adam Ottavino struck out Andrew Toles and Justin Turner to commence the bottom half, and the Dodgers were down to their last out. But soon-to-be NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager saved the day.
It was on to extras, and after Joe Blanton retired the Rockies in the top of the 10th, the first two Dodger batters were retired again in the bottom half. Charlie Culberson, an overlooked utility player who hadn’t hit a home run all year, created perhaps the greatest single regular season moment Dodger Stadium has ever witnessed…and set up its most moving celebration.
The Giants on Clinch Date: September 22, 2017
Ask yourself this: do you even remember this one? 2017 was so packed with highlight reel memories that the actual coronation of the team as NL West champions was just a formality. At home against the Giants, Rich Hill pitched six solid innings before giving way to Tony Watson, Josh Fields and Kenley Jansen. Cody Bellinger’s 39th home run of the year, a three-run shot, made the difference in a 4-2 win.
The game was notable for being on Tommy Lasorda’s 90th birthday, which was honored before the game. As you may recall from my first article here, it also led to a particularly hilarious moment while I was bowling with friends.
The Rockies on Clinch Date: October 1, 2018
After the dominance of 2017, one would be forgiven for actually taking division titles for granted. But the 2018 Dodgers underperformed so much all season long that the very notion of making the playoffs at all was put in jeopardy. A late September skid against the Diamondbacks put their division hopes in danger, but in a season-ending series in San Francisco, they managed to defy their usual history there and sweep them to secure a division tie with the Rockies.
It all came down to game 163 at home against Colorado. Luckily, they gave the ball to one of their few bastions of stability that season, rookie sensation Walker Buehler. An absolutely whiplash-inducing season ended with a victory that felt weirdly easy. Buehler combined with four relievers to secure a 5-2 win, most of the offense coming on homers by Bellinger and Max Muncy. Better late than never, as they say.