Dodgers defeat Mariners to clinch their 10th NL West title in 11 years

It feels like ages ago. Before the Dodgers’ slow start to the season. Before their torrid run through August. Before their pitching staff fell apart and their postseason fate was cast under a cloud of uncertainty.

When the Dodgers opened the season, they weren’t widely expected to win the National League West. They were picked by many for a regression in the standings. They were anything but a guarantee for a 10th division title in 11 years.

Yet with still three weeks to go, baseball’s most dominant regular-season franchise of the last decade collected another piece of familiar hardware, clinching the NL West crown in dramatic fashion Saturday with a 6-2, extra-innings win over the Seattle Mariners.

After surviving nine scoreless innings at T-Mobile Park, then trading runs with the Mariners in the 10th, the Dodgers finally prevailed in the 11th, exploding for a five-run rally that set off yet another division-title celebration.

For one night, it meant the Dodgers weren’t preoccupied with the ominous questions surrounding their pitching staff or the precarious state of their World Series chances. Instead, they not only accomplished their first priority, but also did so well ahead of schedule, moving 13½ games clear at the top of the standings barely two months after retaking possession of first place, for good, as it turned out.

In punching their ticket to the playoffs, the Dodgers had to win a game with all the hallmarks of high October drama.

It started as a pitching duel, with Clayton Kershaw — making his first start in 10 days while battling a lingering shoulder injury — and rookie Emmet Sheehan combining for seven scoreless innings.

It morphed into a back-and-forth bout, with each team’s bullpen tiptoeing out of jams in the late innings before Kolten Wong’s pinch-hit, sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th was answered by Mike Ford’s pinch-hit, RBI single in the bottom half.

Only in the 11th did the Dodgers finally pull away.

Max Muncy golfed a two-strike single the other way for the go-ahead run. Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernández added insurance with a pair of two-run singles. Then, having already burned closer Evan Phillips and most of their other high-leverage bullpen arms, the Dodgers summoned Joe Kelly — one of many new additions to a team that’s been built upon them — to lock down the final three outs, wrapping up the 21st division title in the franchise’s storied history.

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