Dodgers fir­ing on all cylin­ders

L.A. back in NLCS, puts late-sea­son swoon be­hind

USA TODAY International Edition - - USA TODAY SPORTS - Jorge L. Or­tiz @jorgelor­tiz USA TO­DAY Sports

PHOENIX The floor of the vis­it­ing club­house at Chase Field was cov­ered with a plas­tic tarp for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ cel­e­bra­tion, which in­cluded so much cham­pagne and beer spray­ing that the liq­uid started pool­ing.

It made for yet an­other way sev­eral of the Dodgers got their feet wet.

De­spite mak­ing the play­offs in each of the last five years, the Dodgers have a num­ber of play­ers who were par­tic­i­pat­ing in the post­sea­son for the first time in the Na­tional League Di­vi­sion Se­ries, among them Cody Bellinger, Chris Tay­lor, Tony Cin­grani and Bran­don Mor­row.

Each of them played a role in Mon­day’s 3-1 vic­tory against the Ari­zona Diamondbacks, which sent the Dodgers to their third NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries in five years, this time per­haps bet­ter suited to chal­lenge for the ti­tle than in the pre­vi­ous four.

It’s not just their sea­soned veter­ans who now have play­off ex­pe­ri­ence, and that could go a long way to­ward help­ing them end the fran­chise’s 28-year World Se­ries drought.

“This team feels a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” said third base­man Justin Turner, who joined the Dodgers in 2014. “This is a group of 25 guys who un­der­stand how to do what­ever it takes to win games. The un­selfish­ness from ev­ery guy in this room is in­cred­i­ble. I can’t say enough about it.”

Lots of good things were said about this club when it was on pace to tie the record for wins in a sea­son, and plenty of them were re­tracted when the Dodgers went into a 1-16 tail­spin in late Au­gust and early Septem­ber, rais­ing doubts about their play­off po­ten­tial.

Many of those were erased with their three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks that fea­tured smart hit­ting ap­proaches, help from some un­likely sources and, on Mon­day, the best post­sea­son start of Yu Darvish’s ca­reer.

Darvish had sev­eral shaky out­ings af­ter join­ing the Dodgers in a trade July 31, and it wasn’t un­til his last three starts (0.47 ERA) that he looked like the four-time All-Star he is. That fin­ish­ing flour­ish came against in­fe­rior com­pe­ti­tion.

On Mon­day, mak­ing his first ap­pear­ance since Sept. 25, Darvish was fac­ing a Diamondbacks lineup that ranked sec­ond in the league in runs and OPS at home. They never had a chance.

Mix­ing a dev­il­ish slider with a fast­ball that reached 98 mph, Darvish al­lowed two hits and one run while strik­ing out seven in five in­nings to notch the first play­off win of his ca­reer.

“He was fun to catch. He was pretty much on cruise con­trol,” catcher Austin Barnes said. “His stuff was pretty spe­cial tonight.”

Darvish’s per­for­mance pro­vided a rea­son to be­lieve this L.A. club might have stay­ing power, but it was far from the only one.

Bellinger, the NL Rookie of the Year fa­vorite who had a sin­gle in 10 at-bats com­ing in, drove in the game’s first run with a grounder and belted a homer off Zack Greinke in the fifth to ex­tend Los Angeles’ lead to 2-0.

Bellinger saw a to­tal of three pitches in his first two at-bats but worked a 3-1 count be­fore home­r­ing to left field. He also made three sparkling de­fen­sive plays at first base, at one point reach­ing over the rail­ing and stum­bling into the dugout to catch a pop-up that ended the bot­tom of the fifth.

“I try to fo­cus on de­fense as much as I can, be­cause the of­fen­sive side is go­ing to come and go,” Bellinger said.

“It was far away from me in the last two weeks of the sea­son lead­ing up to now, but we’re get­ting there. (Roberts) came up to me and said, ‘Don’t try to do too much.’

“I was press­ing a lit­tle bit, try­ing to do too much with ev­ery pitch, and they were pitch­ing to my ag­gres­sive­ness. It’s hard to hit like that.”

The Dodgers also got a home run from Barnes, the backup whose play­ing time has in­creased of late. They again wore down a Diamondbacks starter, forc­ing Greinke to throw 54 pitches in the first two in­nings and knock­ing him out in the sixth. And they ben­e­fited from four ster­ling in­nings from their re­liev­ers, among them Cin­grani, Mor­row and Kenta Maeda, a starter who made his sec­ond ap­pear­ance of the se­ries out of the bullpen.

Ken­ley Jansen, who struck out Paul Gold­schmidt with a run­ner on base to com­plete his sec­ond save of the se­ries, has harped for months about the im­por­tance of all 25 play­ers on the ros­ter con­tribut­ing. When the Dodgers play that way, they’re aw­fully tough to beat.

“We know how good we are,” Jansen said as the Dodgers cel­e­brated. “We trust in ev­ery sin­gle one of those guys.”

None of them is a play­off rookie any­more.

MATT KARTOZIAN, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

The Dodgers cel­e­brate their win Mon­day that ad­vanced them to the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries.

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