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Dodgers clinch playoff berth with sixth straight win

Sep 30, 2006 - 10:40 PM SAN FRANCISCO (Ticker) -- The Los Angeles Dodgers waited until the next-to-last minute to RSVP, but they are in the postseason party.

Greg Maddux reached the 15-win plateau for the 18th time and J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo drove in two runs apiece as the Dodgers clinched a playoff spot with a 4-2 triumph over the San Francisco Giants.

With just one day left in the regular season, Los Angeles locked up its second postseason berth in three campaigns following a seven-year absence. The Dodgers (87-74) remain in a first-place tie in the National League West Division with San Diego (87-74), which also clinched a playoff berth Saturday by virtue of its 3-1 victory at Arizona.

"I really hope we're just getting started both this year and in years to come," said Dodgers first-year general manager Ned Colletti, who previously served as assistant GM with the Giants. "I signed up to take this thing as far as we can take it for as long as we can take it.

"I think this year, we were able to parlay a good season and a chance to play in the postseason with getting a lot of young players experience. When you're able to do that, and able to merge the two, that's pretty special."

If both Los Angeles and San Diego finish tied for the division title, the Padres will be crowned champions based on head-to-head record and the Dodgers will be the wild card team.

"(This win) means we're in the playoffs and that's where you want to get at the start of the season," Drew said. "If you don't get there, you don't have a chance to win anything. "We're right where we want to be. Regardless of the situation, we made it. Whether it's the division or the wild card, it's going to be a lot of fun."

Takashi Saito sealed the Dodgers' sixth straight win in the bottom of the ninth, striking out Lance Niekro to cap a perfect inning. The Japanese righthander picked up his 24th save in 26 chances as he continues to epitomize the collective attitude of Los Angeles, which overcame plenty of adversity this season.

"(Saito's) been outstanding since he got up here," Dodgers manager Grady Little said. "He assumed the role as a closer, he's been outstanding. I don't know where we'd be without him."

The Dodgers lost All-Star closer Eric Gagne and top setup man Yhency Brazoban to season-ending injuries, in addition to third baseman Bill Mueller and reserve outfielder Jayson Werth.

Los Angeles also suffered through a grueling stretch of 13 losses in 14 games in mid-July, but the team promptly went on a season-best 11-game winning streak and never looked back.

"(The season) didn't (have a usual rhythm) but it's all about those players out there," said Little, who inherited a team coming off a putrid 71-91 season. "They play hard, they never quit and the end result is they make a lot of us (coaches) look good."

Further aiding the Dodgers' turnaround was the acquisition of Maddux (15-14), who helped stabilize the rotation after coming over in a trade-deadline swap with the Chicago Cubs.

"It feels great. It was nice," Maddux said. "I had a great time in Chicago. I'm glad I got traded to LA, so it's been a very good year for me personally. Hopefully it'll get better."

The four-time Cy Young Award winner allowed just two runs and three hits in seven strong innings. He was economical, as usual, as he struck out four, did not walk a batter and threw 55 of 71 pitches for strikes.

"It was fun to go out there and it mattered if you lost," Maddux said. "I think you do what you can do, and that's locate your fastball and change speeds. It matters more, depending on how you do it, but as a pitcher or a player, all you do is locate and change speeds."

The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the first inning as Kenny Lofton tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Lugo. Los Angeles made it 3-1 in the third as Lugo delivered an RBI double and Drew added a sacrifice fly.

Giants starter Matt Cain (13-12) allowed four runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings to close out a promising season in which the 21-year-old righthander emerged as one of the top young pitchers in the sport.

"I really wanted to beat them and make them have to worry," Cain said. "It just didn't work out. But I appreciate every night I've been here. It didn't start out right, but I ended up finishing (the year) pretty good. I didn't like the way it ended, but as a whole, it's alright."

San Francisco had hoped to spoil its rival's postseason hopes, but manager Felipe Alou - who is expected to be fired in the near future - knows that the better team probably won.

"I don't envy them or dislike them," Alou said. "It's well-deserved and we have to accept the truth that they were better. They're a pretty good team and look like a team that's going to be a tough team for a few years."

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