SEATTLE – Clayton Kershaw doesn't know how many more of these celebrations he'll get the chance to enjoy inside the Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse.
Wrapping up an NL West title still feels special.
“You have to embrace it. You have to enjoy it. Like I've been saying, this could be the last one for a long time. Every year I say that, but you just can't take it for granted,” Kershaw said.
The Dodgers secured yet another NL West crown Saturday night with a 6-2 victory in 11 innings over the Seattle Mariners. It's the 10th division title in the past 11 seasons for Los Angeles, and the celebration featured hugs and championship T-shirts on the field before bubbly was popped in the clubhouse.
“Winning the division is something always special, but doing it by winning a baseball game and not by default makes it more special,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Tonight we get a chance to celebrate with one another, celebrate with our fans.”
This clincher had a very October feel — a packed stadium, a tense nine innings filled with terrific pitching on both sides and some unexpected heroics in extra innings.
Max Muncy’s single off Gabe Speier (2-2) scored Mookie Betts from second base with one out in the top of the 11th to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernández followed with two-run singles off Isaiah Campbell, and the numerous fans in Dodger blue roared their approval as Seattle fans headed for the exits.
Evan Phillips (2-4) pitched the 10th inning and Joe Kelly got the final three outs.
“This is one of the most special teams I've been a part of,” Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “I've had a great time this year. What a fun experience.”
There was debate before the season if San Diego might be ready to take over the NL West from the Dodgers after its heavy offseason spending. But Los Angeles again proved the class of the division and wrapped up the crown with a couple of weeks remaining in the regular season.
“Every year is different, but for me this is the most fun I’ve had managing,” Roberts said. “Certainly the players are a big part of it, and to watch those guys celebrate one another, pull for one another, sacrifice for each other makes my job that much more enjoyable.”
While the Dodgers will spend the final two weeks of the regular season solidifying their playoff position, the Mariners stumbled for a second straight night with the chance to make up ground in the AL West race.
Texas and Houston both lost earlier Saturday, but the Mariners couldn’t get a key hit with a chance to take the lead in the eighth inning. Seattle remained 1 1/2 games back of first-place Houston and one game behind the Rangers.
“Where we're at right now, you're disappointed the last couple of nights. We're right there in the game. ... You've got to let it go, wash it clean. We're in a good spot to get into October baseball,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said.
After nine scoreless innings of terrific pitching on both sides, each team got a key at-bat from a pinch-hitter in the 10th. Kolten Wong’s sacrifice fly gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead, but Mike Ford answered with a two-out RBI single to score Josh Rojas and tie the game at 1.
Seattle had a chance to win it in the 10th, but Teoscar Hernández grounded into a force play with the bases loaded to end the threat. The Mariners also had runners at first and second and no outs in the eighth but J.P. Crawford, Julio Rodríguez and Teoscar Hernández all struck out.
“I didn’t execute my job and Julio didn’t, either. Runners on first and second late in the game, we’ve got to get them over and we've got to get them in,” Crawford said. "We (messed) up. I take full responsibility. I’ve got to get them over. I've got to do my job.”
Kershaw pitched four innings in his return to the mound for the Dodgers following an extended rest between starts. Kershaw had not started since Sept. 5 and the hope was the extra rest would help some of the control issues that emerged in his last start.
It started shaky, with Kershaw walking two of his first three batters. But he quickly settled in and allowed just two hits and struck out four, throwing 55 pitches before being lifted for Emmet Sheehan.
Sheehan was terrific in his relief stint, striking out five and allowing only one baserunner in three innings of work. Ty France singled with two outs in the seventh, snapping a string of 12 straight retired by the combo of Kershaw and Sheehan.
Seattle starter Bryce Miller was the equal of the Kershaw and Sheehan combo, shutting down the Dodgers into the sixth inning while facing them for the first time in his career. The rookie scattered four hits and struck out four, and the only batter to reach third base against him was Jason Heyward in the fifth inning. Rodríguez ended that inning with a terrific catch on Betts’ line drive.
Heyward had three doubles for the third time in his career.
Teoscar Hernández extended his on-base streak to 30 games with a walk in the first inning. It’s the longest active on-base streak in the majors and the longest this season by a Mariners player.
Dodgers: Los Angeles had not finalized its pitching plans for Sunday, but RHP Gavin Stone was expected to work the bulk of the game either as the starter or following an opener.
Mariners: RHP Logan Gilbert (13-5, 3.62 ERA) will face the Dodgers for the first time in his career. Gilbert allowed three runs over seven innings in his last start against the Angels. Gilbert has a 2.98 ERA over his past 13 starts.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb