Commentary

Dodgers' defining moments of 2011

Updated: December 19, 2011, 2:03 PM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Matt KempAP Photo/Damian DovarganesMatt Kemp's long-term deal made the Dodgers' future brighter.

We surveyed our writers to rank their top stories of 2011, moments that defined the franchises they cover and affected the fans who followed them. Here, Dodgers writer Tony Jackson -- who covered a season that included a rookie manager finding his way, a promising young starter winning the Cy Young Award and a budding superstar coming tantalizingly close to being the National League's Most Valuable Player -- makes his picks. Vote on your favorite moments in the poll below, or add your own in the comments.

5. Dodgers win their 82nd game

On what may have been the most riveting night in the history of Major League Baseball, the Dodgers quietly finished their season Sept. 28 with a mostly meaningless, 7-5 victory over the already playoff-bound Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field, rookie sensation Kenley Jansen staving off a furious rally by retiring the final two batters in the ninth.

But this game was meaningless only in the standings. Although mathematically the Dodgers had clinched a winning season by winning their 81st game two nights before, that was only because of a rainout in Washington earlier in the month that wasn't to be made up. A legitimate winning season means 82 victories, and this one for the Dodgers capped an impressive, 44-27 finish by a team that could have packed it in months earlier.

And that, ultimately, may have been the most telling statistic of rookie manager Don Mattingly's first season, that the Dodgers didn't quit at a time when a lot of teams might have and that they somehow salvaged a winning record from the slog of a horrendous May and June that knocked them out of contention early.

4. Bryan Stow beaten in Dodger Stadium parking lot

On March 31, a day that should have been all about celebrating a riveting victory, the Dodgers defeating the world champion San Francisco Giants 2-1 and Clayton Kershaw defeating Tim Lincecum for the first of what would turn out to be four times in four head-to-head meetings, the assault on a Giants fan after the game grabbed the headlines.

It came to symbolize the failures of the McCourt regime, as news eventually came out that the Dodgers had cut their game-day security force in advance of that beating and the LAPD announced it was going to have a dramatically increased presence at the ballpark -- a "sea of blue" -- and that McCourt was going to pay for it.

3. Matt Kemp signs largest contract in franchise history

At a time when he was still hopeful of winning the MVP -- he wound up finishing second to Milwaukee's Ryan Braun -- Kemp officially was locked up for the next eight years for $160 million on Nov. 18. Kemp addressed a media contingent at Dodger Stadium following a season in which he barely missed the Triple Crown (he finished third in batting) and barely missed joining the 40/40 club (he stole 40 bases but hit just 39 homers).

Although the Dodgers were still in bankruptcy and for sale and the 2012 player-payroll budget had been slashed to $90 million, the fact this mega-talented player finally seemed to have grown into his enormous potential lent a sense of promise to the Dodgers' future.

2. Clayton Kershaw wins Cy Young Award

It had been pretty much a foregone conclusion since the season ended, the only concern being whether East Coast voters who didn't see him that often would understand just how dominating Kershaw had become as the season progressed. Ultimately, though, Kershaw's Cy Young coronation on Nov. 17 followed a season in which he became the Dodgers' first 20-game winner since 1990 and their first starting pitcher to bring home a Cy Young Award since 1988.

Kershaw had won the unofficial pitching version of baseball's Triple Crown, tying for the NL lead in wins with 21 and leading the league with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts. Like Kemp, he had made his first All-Star team in July, and he had lost only one game since then. In fact, in 15 starts after the Dodgers began their season-ending surge on July 6, Kershaw went 13-1 with a 1.22 ERA, and the Dodgers won 13 of his 15 starts.

He did all this at the age of 23 and before becoming arbitration-eligible, meaning the Dodgers can count on his services for at least three more years and maybe longer if Kershaw will agree to a long-term extension sometime between now and the end of the 2014 season.

1. McCourt agrees to sell

It is rather telling of the kind of year the Dodgers had that the three most significant moments happened in November, long after the jerseys and spikes had been packed up for the winter. But in a moment that probably had been inevitable, McCourt finally served notice Nov. 2, with a forceful nudge from the commissioner's office, that he was about to set the Dodgers and their beleaguered fan base free from his reign of hopelessness.

Although McCourt, under terms of the agreement, must sell the team by April 30, his eight-year reign -- which, lest we forget, has included four playoff appearances -- will essentially have a ninth year because his inability to deliver the sort of payroll befitting a team in the nation's second-largest market will continue into the 2012 season.

But of all the defining moments for the Dodgers in 2011, it is McCourt's waving of the white flag that should have the most profound impact in the years to come, even more so than Kemp's contract extension, because, presumably, it is the one thing, the only thing, that potentially will allow the Dodgers to be the Dodgers again.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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