LOS ANGELES — In the middle of the champagne showers and unabashed whooping Monday night, one picture captured the postgame celebration perfectly.
Clayton Kershaw, drenched from head to toe and still exhausted from his night’s work, found legendary Dodger Sandy Koufax standing near the entrance to the clubhouse doors. The two exchanged a heartfelt embrace and a few words — a shared moment of jubilation between two left-handers, one past and one present.
Koufax is not the type to seek out publicity of any sort, but he couldn’t avoid this very public party. He wanted to be a part of it.
It seemed appropriate that he should be there. The Dodgers continue to enjoy a remarkable season, so why not have their greatest pitcher sprinkle a little magic dust on them?
“They like each other,” said Koufax, surveying the players popping corks and spraying champagne in every direction. “It’s kind of fun to watch them.”
It’s been fun all summer watching a team that looked washed up in June but was now relishing its division series win over the Atlanta Braves. By Wednesday night, the Dodgers will know whether they’ll be playing the Pittsburgh Pirates or St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
It has also been magical. The Dodgers rose from last place to first in the NL West, went 42-8 during one amazing stretch and made the right moves at the right times, not just on the field but with their in-season additions. They called up rookie Yasiel Puig in June, traded for starter Ricky Nolasco in July and signed veteran reliever Brian Wilson to pitch in August and September. They added Michael Young to fortify their bench. They overcame injuries to Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.
They pitched well and hit well. The Braves led the NL in home runs, but they were out-homered by the Dodgers 7-1 in the NLDS.
In four games, the Dodgers hit .333, scored 26 runs and collected 18 extra-base hits. Juan Uribe won the clincher with a two-run homer in the eighth inning Monday night, and Carl Crawford hit two in his first two at-bats. Hanley Ramirez has been unstoppable, hitting .500 (8 for 16) with six RBI. Six of his eight hits have gone for extra-bases.
The Dodgers’ pitching, which has been the club’s foundation, came through again. Kershaw, working on three days’ rest, gave up two unearned runs in six innings. And although the bullpen has faltered getting through the seventh inning, Wilson, left-hander J.P. Howell and closer Kenley Jansen have been solid, combing for 7 1/3 shutout innings.
Conversely, the Dodgers were able to keep Braves closer Craig Kimbrel on the bench for all but one game.
Now the Dodgers will have three days off before beginning their best-of-7 NLCS against the Cardinals or Pirates. That’s enough time to enjoy the NLDS win and think about what lies ahead.
For Kershaw, it’s a break to consider his shared moment with Koufax, who seemed to enjoy watching the kids soak up their victory. In his day, he’d done the same thing.
“I think he genuinely cares about not only this team, but kind of our well-being,” Kershaw said. “He cares about us. That’s awesome.”