From MOP Squad Sports

Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgers Advance to 1st NLCS since '88
By JOE RESNICK, For The Associated Press
Oct 5, 2008 - 2:46:45 AM

LOS ANGELES - Manny Ramirez and Joe Torre needed only three games to help the Los Angeles Dodgers win their first postseason series in 20 years.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Manny Ramirez reacts after sliding safey into home to score on a two-run double by James Loney during the first inning of Game 3 of baseball's National League division series in Los Angeles, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Dodgers wrapped up their stunning three-game sweep of the Cubs in the NL division series with a 3-1 victory Saturday night, their first series win since Orel Hershiser led Los Angeles to the 1988 World Series title.

It was the second straight home game in which the jubilant Dodgers poured champagne over each other's heads. They clinched the NL West title before wrapping up the regular season with three games at San Francisco.

"You never know what's going to happen," Ramirez said. "We had nothing to lose. We got in and we were underdogs, now we're going to the second round. We just wanted to play hard and enjoy it. That's all you can do. It doesn't matter if you're the underdog or the favored team. But we don't want to peak too soon. The key is to go to the big dance."

And now they're going.

Just hours after one of Torre's thoroughbred racehorses won the Champagne Stakes by 5 3/4 lengths at Belmont Park — in the city where the manager led the New York Yankees to four championships — the Dodgers earned a trip to the NLCS by extending the Cubs' futility to 100 years. Los Angeles will face either the Phillies or Brewers with Game 1 set for Thursday.

"The Cubs had a really good team. They really did. They were solid, and they had probably the best team going in, but we just played better the last few games," Greg Maddux said. "That's all. I thought we pitched extremely well. Our three starters came up huge, and our offense had some great at-bats."

Exactly 53 years to the day the Dodgers clinched their only World Series title in Brooklyn, Chavez Ravine began rocking when Duke Snider and Don Newcombe each threw out a ceremonial first pitch. It reached a crescendo when Jonathan Broxton struck out Alfonso Soriano to complete a four-out save with the crowd of 56,000 chanting "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!"

And the sweep came in large part to Torre's steady style in his first year with the Dodgers and the hitting of Ramirez, a trade-deadline acquisition.

"I'm really proud of the way we played," said third baseman Casey Blake, another late-season pickup. "Not too many people expected us to come out and do what we did. But we knew we had an awesome pitching staff, and that's what it was going to take in a series like this. We went into Wrigley Field for the first two games and, and James' (Loney) grand slam in the first game took the crowd out of it right away."

Hiroki Kuroda, who spent 11 seasons pitching in the Japanese Central League with Hiroshima before signing a three-year, $35.3 million contract in December, helped sealed the deal with 6 1-3 scoreless innings of six-hit ball.

James Loney provided the spark Saturday with a two-run double in the first, and Russell Martin added a run-scoring double in the fifth off starter Rich Harden.

"To win this game, a close game, was huge," Torre said. "We were spoiled the last couple of games. We won by seven and by five. But tonight was a game I think that maybe helped us learn a little bit more about ourselves."

It didn't matter to the Dodgers that their 84-78 record was the worst among the six division winners, or that Chicago's 97-64 mark and run total were the best in the NL. Torre's team kept riding a wave they caught late in the regular season, after losing eight straight games and falling 4 1/2 games out of first place in the West.

"We learned a lot about ourselves during that eight-game losing streak and we came together," Blake said. "I think we found out what we were made of."

With Ramirez, Loney and Martin leading the way in this series, Los Angeles outscored Chicago 20-6. The Cubbies have dropped nine straight postseason games, including being swept by Arizona in last year's division series.

"We made it easy, didn't we?'" a giddy Jeff Kent said. "They kind of gifted us a bunch of runs in Chicago, but it ended up working out all right. When you have a long layoff and you get yourself into the playoffs, anything can happen. We ended up playing some teams with losing records at the end September and we gained confidence from all that."

The Dodgers' pitching staff, second in the majors behind Toronto with a 3.68 ERA during the regular season, held Chicago to just five hits in 28 at-bats with runners in scoring position — and one in 11 at-bats Saturday.

The Cubs knew they were fighting history entering Game 3 — no NL team has ever won an NLDS after losing the first two games. In fact, the only team to advance to the LCS after losing the first two games at home was Torre's 2001 New York Yankees.

Torre, whose 79 postseason victories are a record, made all the right moves in this series and didn't allow sentiment to get the better of him.

He started rookie Blake DeWitt at second base all three games instead of Kent. The 17-year veteran, who had 43 games of postseason experience entering this series, spent 2 1/2 weeks on the disabled list after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee but was able to start several games in the final week of the regular schedule.

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