By DAVID GINSBURG
BALTIMORE (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers sprayed each other with bubbly, emptied dozens of bottles of beer while drinking very little of it and essentially carried on in a fashion appropriate for a team celebrating its seventh consecutive NL West tile.
Certainly, the Dodgers were elated about becoming the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot this season. Yet, because the occasion was virtually a given since May and not nearly as emotional as their playoff win over Colorado in Game 163 last year, the party was, as manager Dave Roberts put it, “subdued.”
“It was one of those things that we expected it,” Roberts said Tuesday night after a clinching 7-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles. “It’s obviously early in September, but it doesn’t take away what we as an organization accomplished.”
The Dodgers, with a power-packed lineup and imposing rotation, gained sole possession of first place on April 17 and never looked back. Their final pursuer was the Arizona Diamondbacks, who dropped 18½ games out of first place with a loss to the Mets.
After the last out, the players gathered around the mound for a wardrobe change for the soaking to follow the second-earliest NL West clinching behind the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, who accomplished the feat on Sept. 7.
Sure, the celebration was inevitable. So what?
“When we do get moments like this, I think we do a good job of appreciating what we have accomplished and it’s special. It really is,” Roberts said. ’To win one division, but to win seven in a row, the consistency of the organization, what we’ve done, a lot of credit goes to a lot of people. And now it’s the idea of refocusing and everything we do going forward is to win 11 games in October.”
Los Angeles, coming off consecutive World Series losses to Houston and Boston and seeking its first title since 1988, will likely begin the postseason at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 3 against the NL wild-card team.
“It’s something you don’t take for granted. You enjoy them all,” said third baseman Justin Turner, who received a beer drenching in the middle of his interview. “Obviously not as dramatic as last year, going to a Game 163, but it doesn’t take anything away from what we’ve accomplished. We’ve showed up trying to give ourselves another chance to make it to the World Series, and this is the first step.”
On the outskirt of the mayhem-filled clubhouse, former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda watched with a beer in his hand. Roberts came by to shake the hand of the 91-year-old face of the franchise, who ultimately was greeted by almost every beer-soaked player in striking distance.
Los Angeles (94-52) has never clinched the division earlier, both in terms of date and games. The 1977 team did it in Game 151, and the 2013 club clinched on Sept. 19.
Though an Arizona loss to the Mets would have clinched it for the Dodgers, Los Angeles emphatically took care of business on its own. Corey Seager homered with two on to cap a four-run first inning against Ty Blach (1-3) and added a two-run drive in the third for a 6-0 lead.
Gavin Lux hit his first career homer in the fifth to increase the Dodgers’ NL record for long balls in a season to 258.
Tagged by Colorado for six runs in five innings during his previous start, Walker Buehler (13-3) limited last-place Baltimore to four hits over seven shutout innings for the team with the lowest ERA in the league.
Buehler struck out 11, reaching double figures for the sixth time. He has 201 for the season.
“That was just a clinic from first inning through the seventh for him,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “Four pitches for strikes, locating everything. I haven’t seen the video, but it didn’t seem like he missed a spot the whole night.”
The Dodgers can now coast to the finish, although they have a shot at breaking the franchise record for largest final first-place margin, 13½ games in 1955. LA is also in the running against Houston and the Yankees for best record in the majors and home-field advantage throughout October.
Attendance was announced at 12,356 — including 233 dogs, as part of a bring-your-dog-to-the-park promotion.
Dodgers: Turner (ankle) opted to rest his tender ankle and did not play. “He feels that trying to give it another day will benefit him,” Roberts said. “It’s something he could play through but it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” … OF Alex Verdugo (right oblique strain) is taking a few days off from baseball activities, making his potential to return less probable. “Each day we don’t get him moving closer to playing makes it more bleak,” Roberts said. “But we’re still hopeful.”
Orioles: RHP Hunter Harvey threw a bullpen before Tuesday’s game. He hasn’t pitched since facing one batter at Tampa Bay on Sept. 2. “He just had a little bit of soreness, and we just wanted to stay away from him for a while,” manager Brandon Hyde said. … RHP Asher Wojciechowski will be pushed back a day or two. He was removed from Sunday’s starter after two innings, and Hyde thought Wojciechowski was suffering from fatigue.
Dodgers: RHP Ross Stripling (4-4, 3.42 ERA) makes a spot start in his first appearance since throwing two innings of scoreless relief against Colorado last Wednesday.
Orioles: LHP John Means (10-10, 3.50) is 2-5 in his last seven games but has not allowed more than two earned runs in four straight starts.