LOS ANGELES — For the first time this season, there was nothing at stake for the repeat NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers. So Joe Torre, maintaining a tradition he used during his time with the New York Yankees, let backup catcher Brad Ausmus manage.
Ausmus’ day was a success. Vicente Padilla struck out 10 in five innings, and the Dodgers finished the regular season with a 5-3 victory over the wild-card Colorado Rockies on Sunday.
Los Angeles had clinched its second straight division title Saturday night with a 5-0 victory.
“Joe came up to me when we were celebrating on the field last night and said, ‘You want to manage tomorrow night?’ I said, ‘I’ll be here,’ and he said, “All right, you’re managing.”
The three-time Gold Glove catcher was ably assisted by “bench coach” Mark Loretta, “hitting coach” Jim Thome and “bullpen coach” Jeff Weaver — all designated by Torre while Bob Schaefer, Don Mattingly and Ken Howell got the day off.
Ausmus went to the mound to make a pitching change in the eighth to replace Ronald Belisario with Scott Elbert, then put himself in as a pinch runner for Thome in the bottom half after his hitting coach singled.
“I’m turning the reins right back over to Joe — if he ever shows up again,” Ausmus joked. “Today’s just all about the fun. We’re fortunate we’re in a position where we can have fun like this. I have thought about doing it, but I’m still trying to get through the playing part of my career.”
The Dodgers took sole possession of first place for good on April 19 with a 14-2 win over the Rockies, won the season series 14-4 and finished three games ahead of Colorado. The Rockies, who nearly erased a deficit that was 151/2 games before play on June 4, needed a sweep to gain their first division title.
“You look at every team, even the teams in the playoffs, and you’re going to see a month where they struggled. Ours just happened to be the first month, but we turned it around and went from there,” the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki said.
Los Angeles finished an NL-best 95-67 in its second season under Torre — the first time the Dodgers have had the league’s best record since 1983. They host St. Louis on Wednesday in their postseason opener, while Colorado starts the same day at Philadelphia.
Colorado went a franchise-best 92-70, including 74-42 after Jim Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle as manager on May 29.
“Trace is a good guy and a good baseball man,” Torre said. “He sort of cleaned the slate over there and gave everybody the feeling they he trusted what they were doing — and they responded to him. And you can just see that by the way they play. There’s out there playing with a lot of confidence because they feel good about who they are.”