LOS ANGELES (AP) – As the celebration raged around them, Sandy Koufax sought out Clayton Kershaw in the hazy mist of the clubhouse for a hug.
Koufax, whose blazing fastball dominated baseball in the mid-1960s, removed the protective goggles from his eyes and rested his arms on Kershaw’s broad shoulders.
From the franchise’s old left-handed ace to its current young southpaw, a smiling Koufax looked Kershaw in the eyes and bestowed his congratulations. The Dodgers had advanced to their 10th National League championship series with a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.
“To get a hug and get a `good job’ from a guy like that, from a guy that’s been there, from a guy that’s done this before and was the best at it for a long time is pretty special,” Kershaw said. “He genuinely cares about not only this team but kind of our well-being. He cares about us. That’s awesome.”
The NL West champions open the next round Friday against St. Louis or Pittsburgh. The Cardinals host the wild-card Pirates in a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday.
“We’ve moved one step closer,” said Don Mattingly, managing in the playoffs for the first time.
Juan Uribe hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning after Kershaw started on short rest for the Dodgers, who reached the NLCS for the first time since 2009.
“It was a special night to get to do it here in L.A.,” said Kershaw, his hair slick from the spray of beer and champagne. “We haven’t won anything yet, but it definitely feels good to get to celebrate. You never want to pass those moments up.”
Carl Crawford homered his first two times up and the Dodgers won the best-of-five playoff 3-1.
“This does not get old. I love the champagne. I love the burning sensation in my eyes,” center fielder Skip Schumaker said. “A lot of these guys have never experienced the moving on to the next round and I’m happy for them.”
Yasiel Puig doubled down the right-field line leading off the eighth against losing pitcher David Carpenter. The rookie charged into second base and pumped his right fist in the air.
Fans were on their feet chanting “Let’s go Dodgers!” when Uribe fouled off two bunt attempts. Then he sent a hanging 2-2 breaking ball into the Dodgers’ bullpen in left field to put them in front for the second time.
Uribe knew it was gone as soon as he connected. He dropped his bat and threw both arms in the air at home plate.
“This moment today I’ll never forget,” he said. “I think a lot of people feel like that.”
Meanwhile, it was the latest October flop for Atlanta, which hasn’t won a postseason series since 2001. During that stretch, the Braves have lost seven straight playoff series and the 2012 NL wild-card game.
“To end the way it did tonight, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to be a long way back,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But tip your hat to the Dodgers and congratulate Donnie and his staff. The sad thing is there are no more games, you know?”
Brian Wilson pitched a scoreless eighth to get the victory. Kenley Jansen struck out all three batters in the ninth for a save, fanning Justin Upton to end it.
That set off a raucous celebration on the field by the Dodgers, who rushed toward the mound in a mob. They tore jerseys off each other in unbridled excitement and doused Uribe with a bright-colored sports drink.
“This team has a lot of fun. We don’t think about being the team to beat and all that stuff. We just go out there and play and try to have fun,” Crawford said.
Jansen and catcher A.J. Ellis leaped into each other’s arms, and a burst of fireworks lit the sky in center field as blue and silver streamers cascaded from an upper level of the stadium.
The Dodgers lined up exchanging hugs in the infield, and co-owners Mark Walter and Magic Johnson grinned watching the revelry among the team they purchased last year.
Kershaw, Puig, Wilson and other players jogged around the warning track exchanging high-fives and hand slaps with delirious fans.
“They were loud,” Kershaw said. “They want it just as much as we do.”
The Dodgers were criticized for jumping into the ballpark pool in Arizona when they clinched the NL West crown last month. This time, they got to party at home.
The Braves took a 3-2 lead in the seventh on pinch-hitter Jose Constanza’s RBI single off reliever Ronald Belisario.
Needing a win to avoid elimination, Gonzalez never got the ball to lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel.
“You don’t want it to ever end the way we ended today. But we had the right guy out there. Carp has been good for us,” Gonzalez said. “There is nothing to be ashamed of.”
The Dodgers gambled in bringing back Kershaw on three days’ rest for the first time in his career. But with a chance to close out the series, they opted for their ace over scheduled starter Ricky Nolasco. The move paid off when the 2011 Cy Young Award winner tossed six solid innings before turning it over to the bullpen.
“This is the postseason,” Kershaw said. “You just go. It’s a one-month sprint and I’m looking forward to the next couple games.”
Kershaw wasted a 2-0 lead, giving up two unearned runs and three hits. He struck out six and walked one on 91 pitches.
With one out in the seventh, Elliot Johnson tripled into the right-field corner, sending Puig sliding into the dirt chasing the ball as it caromed off the wall. Constanza, batting for starting pitcher Freddy Garcia, singled into center to put the NL East champions ahead for the first time.
Garcia allowed two runs and eight hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked two.
The Braves tied it 2-all in the fourth.
Crawford’s second homer of the game came in the third, landing deep in the lower right-field seats for a 2-0 lead.
Crawford led off the first with a towering home run to the right-field pavilion, smiling broadly as the Dodgers took a 1-0 lead.
“The smile on his face when he hit that homer is priceless,” Mattingly said.
NOTES: The Dodgers lost in five games to Philadelphia four years ago in the NLCS. … The last Dodgers pitcher to start on short rest in the playoffs was Derek Lowe, who allowed two runs and six hits in five innings of a no-decision in Game 4 of the NLCS on Oct. 13, 2008, against Philadelphia. … Crawford’s leadoff homer was the second in Dodgers postseason history. Davey Lopes homered leading off Game 6 of the 1978 World Series. He’s now the first base coach for the team. … Kershaw allowed seven unearned runs during the regular season, all of them at Dodger Stadium.
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