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The Dodgers are NL West champions

9/19/2013

PHOENIX -- It was an unusual division title-winning season. It started with a gradual descent followed by a massive, unrelenting climb before culminating in a short, late-season dip. But in the end, the Los Angeles Dodgers found themselves right where they expected to be all along.

They're the National League West champions, and they have designs on grander goals than that.

The Dodgers became the first team in baseball to clinch a playoff spot with their wild 7-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Thursday afternoon.

After closer Kenley Jansen got Aaron Hill to fly out to left field, the Dodgers streamed onto the field. Jansen and catcher A.J. Ellis were locked in a bear hug when Clayton Kershaw leaped onto Jansen's back. Players began putting on gray T-shirts that read, "We own the West."

The team formed a scrum, which gravitated to the second-base area before the Dodgers took their celebration inside to the clubhouse.

Ellis, in a deep hitting slump entering the game, hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning.

Hanley Ramirez is making a pretty good argument that he's the Dodgers' MVP, presuming you don't think a starting pitcher enters the discussion. The problem has been keeping him on the field. He largely was the Dodgers' offense Thursday, hammering a pair of home runs and driving in four.

Ramirez has hit 20 home runs while playing in just 81 games, his season hampered by thumb, hamstring and, lately, back issues. He was pulled in the ninth inning after appearing to pull up after running hard to first base trying to leg out an infield single.

It looked as if the Dodgers might walk into the playoffs when Ramirez hit his first home run, a three-run shot, into the left-field stands in the third inning. After the Dodgers had bumbled about for two weeks trying to get this division clinched, it seemed to ease the pressure in the dugout.

But Ricky Nolasco came unhinged in the third inning, giving up six runs on seven rapid-fire hits. With the Dodgers' bullpen a bit ragged after Stephen Fife's short start the night before, Don Mattingly left Nolasco out there and he managed to get through two more scoreless innings to give the Dodgers hope of a rally.

Yasiel Puig continued his beginner's-mistake-a-day tour getting a bad read on Jerry Hairston Jr.'s bloop to right field before Ramirez's home run. What would have gone for a base hit became a fielder's choice when Gerardo Parra easily threw Puig out at second. Afterward, Hairston was captured on camera yelling and gesturing in Puig's direction. Adrian Gonzalez later was seen in the dugout with his arm around Puig talking to him.

That's OK. The Dodgers have exactly two weeks to work out any issues before they play another game that matters.