LOS ANGELES – What waited was Clayton Kershaw with the ball in his hand and a chance. One more afternoon and a chance. One more shot at making it all better. A chance.
What arrived was none of that, and deservedly so.
Kershaw's start will be for the benefit of Cy Young Award voters only. Wednesday afternoon will come and go, like the entire season did. Beer will sell, parking spots will sell, and everyone will promise more come spring.
The Los Angeles Dodgers got the ball to Kershaw for Game 162 all right, but did not bring the season with them. Kershaw will pitch in what will amount to a playoff tune-up for the San Francisco Giants lineup, and to one last slog around Dodger Stadium for the Dodgers.
They were 32-31 since Hanley Ramirez landed, 29-27 with Shane Victorino, 17-18 with Adrian Gonzalez in the room.
And then they went home, from Matt Kemp to Andre Ethier to A.J. Ellis to whatever worked and all that didn't.
Given the chance they probably didn't have coming – three losses in six games by the St. Louis Cardinals, the single soft spot on the National League side of things, a home game against a team that clinched forever ago, and a lineup that finally started producing more than disappointment – the Dodgers lost on Tuesday night to the Giants, 4-3.
They weren't good enough. Not with a pitching staff that overachieved. Not with money the franchise had never before had. Not with a series of bold summertime trades that should have overwhelmed the NL West.
On an unseasonably steamy October night when Barry Zito flipped devilish curveballs and just enough went wrong for the Dodgers, they were dismissed from the rest of October. The Cardinals – a team that played away from the loss of Albert Pujols, 87-game winners, themselves buried in the NL Central – would play on instead.
The Dodgers, meantime, played as a team given too much too soon. From a club that played over its head in its infancy to a team that played arrogantly in its heavily financed prime, the Dodgers did little to justify the names in their lineup. Yet they played with a conceit they hadn't earned, and all it did was bury them further. From mid-August to early last week, the Dodgers lost 22 of 36 games, primarily because they scored three runs or fewer in exactly 22 of those 36 games.
So when they did win – six in a row before losing their chance for good on Tuesday – their margin for error became the width of a fungo bat.
Kemp struck out three times, twice on Zito curveballs, and after the last one – in the seventh inning with the tying run at third base – flung his bat to the ground. Mark Ellis, the most fundamentally grounded player among them, was thrown out at third base by several yards in the seventh inning, when second base would have done. A.J. Ellis, all season an example to his teammates for his selflessness, failed to lay down a sacrifice bunt in the ninth.
And together, this roster of Kemp and Gonzalez and Ethier and Ramirez and Victorino, it was hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. By the end, the Dodgers seemed determined to win games from their heels, spectacularly, dramatically, heroically. When, really, what they needed was to win them in the small, dark places where smug teams refuse to play.
If the Dodgers sold out to Ned Colletti's plan, and Don Mattingly's leadership, that was not the appearance, at least not for the length of their roster, and then not until it was too late by at least a day.
"It is what it is," Kemp said over and over afterward, and while he did not intend to be flip, his statement reflected exactly where they'd landed. And why.
By the time they'd gotten desperate, by the time they became teammates, it was time to go home.
Mattingly sat slumped behind his office desk. Owner Mark Walter and president Stan Kasten sat across the room. Beyond them, through a doorway, the clubhouse was quiet.
"Everything," Mattingly said, "comes to a screeching halt."
It arrived at their 76th loss, with still a game to play, with Kershaw holding out his hand, expecting the ball. They'd still have needed another Cardinals loss, but at least that was something, better than this.
"We'll have to start fresh," Mattingly said.
He looked back over the trades that brought the players that were supposed to bring something better, and didn't.
"We just didn't really do anything," he said. "It's really kind of surprising… It just took us a while to get together. I don't know the reasons why we didn't get going."
"There's going to be big expectations next year for us," he continued, "and that's good."
It's all they have, because they ran out of chances, and they deserved no better. They'd played themselves finally to a place where it wasn't their season anymore. It was everybody else's.
And that's exactly what it is.
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