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Another October, another possible letdown for the Los Angeles Dodgers

Tim Brown
·MLB columnist
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BOSTON – With one last burst of energy, they stood here and pounded their mittens, jogged in place to bring their toes back to life, shouted through scarves wet with breath. They half expected this to be the last they’d see of their Boston Red Sox, though to say it aloud surely would cost them two rounds at the Cask ‘n Flagon. And so they said goodbye – for now – to a team so taut it seemed safe to say goodbye without really saying goodbye, goodbye with a wink, goodbye with visions of duck boats in the streets.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, then, had come here, bundled up, played a poor game, played a better game, lost by four, lost by two (on Wednesday night by the score of 4-2), returned to their hotel, set their alarms and Thursday will get on a plane bound for … what?

Several of them stood late Wednesday night at the dugout rail, their words vanishing in the ambient sounds of post-game Fenway Park. The dugout heater rumbled in a dugout corner, warming only Joc Pederson and his wife, Kelsey, who laid her head on his shoulder. Fans were shooed to the exits. “Folks, gotta go!” security people shouted. The stubborn ones dawdled on the old cement stairs. “Best team evah!” a man shouted over his shoulder. He wasn’t talking about the Dodgers. The thermometer said it was 41 degrees, but it was not 41. The outfield flag whipped toward right field. The cold of the warning track worked upward through shoes, feet, ankles, calves. An organ dressed up a 40-year-old song, forgotten 30 years ago.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will return home to Dodger Stadium on Friday in a 2-0 hole to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. (Getty Images)
The Los Angeles Dodgers will return home to Dodger Stadium on Friday in a 2-0 hole to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. (Getty Images)

The clubhouse is so small, the media gathering so large, Dodgers players were forced – asked, probably — to return to the field to explain themselves. They walked the old hallway, climbed the wooden stairs and emerged in flannel shirts and jeans and far-away expressions. Their World Series hole is two-games-to-none. Their matchup-heavy strategy, the one that brought a sixth consecutive NL West title, that proved too much for the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers, had been powerless against the Red Sox, who are just better. Better than anyone the Dodgers have played so far. Better than the Dodgers so far.

It’s a lot to consider, given how long the Dodgers have gone believing they were superior and waiting on that game to surface. It happened in the regular season. It played in October, up until now, until two games in Boston, where what they summoned was short.

There aren’t many of them left since the first division title, who have had a hand in all six – Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, Kenley Jansen. The concept of leaving a sixth October on the table, the fear of such profligacy, would be lost on the men who watched Fenway empty to the sound of forklift engines and a northwesterly wind, who stuffed their hands deep in their pockets and leaned toward Game 3.

The temperature will rise at least 30 degrees. The sun will set against the San Gabriels. Palm trees will sway. And they’ll hand the ball to the rookie, Walker Buehler, in a ballgame that can’t go the way the first two went. Not in their minds, it can’t.

“Just,” reliever Ryan Madson said, “start over again.”

Cody Bellinger, whose two big-league Octobers have concluded in the World Series, grinned a little and acknowledged, “It’s gonna be hard.”

At this point it is impossible to say whether all of the Dodgers’ moving parts are helping or hindering, that what worked in a September’s full schedule cannot possibly sustain itself in an October’s short series. Because they’ve won two series, one of them even shorter, with brief starts and scattered at-bats and up-down mindsets. Whether their collection of talent, one to 25, can beat a roster that is top heavy with talent, one to something slightly less than 25. Whether a scheme that begins two World Series games with 109 home runs on the bench – Max Muncy’s 35, Bellinger’s 25, Pederson’s 25, Yasmani Grandal’s 24 – is a long game played too far, or a short game played to the percentages. Whether the series is just getting started or is half over.

“But this is something that we’ve done a lot in September and throughout the postseason,” manager Dave Roberts said, “and it’s proved to be successful. … When guys are in there, they’ve just got to be productive. So we’ve got a lot of good players and we’ve got a long way to go.”

Dave Roberts’ matchup-heavy strategy has been powerless against the Red Sox so far. (Getty Images)
Dave Roberts’ matchup-heavy strategy has been powerless against the Red Sox so far. (Getty Images)

That, of course, probably depends at least some on Friday night, because if 0-2 is crummy but not a disaster, 0-3 is both of those.

David Freese, who grew up in Missouri and didn’t wear a jacket postgame and bounced on his feet against the cold and still promised, “I like this,” meaning the weather, said of the Red Sox, “They can pitch. They fly after the ball. Big-league at-bats. … One after another, they’re working.

“About 110 wins? They know what they’re doing.”

That’s what is for the Dodgers to match, and soon, if they are capable. All of those tiny places where the Red Sox proved better for 28 hours. The handful of pitches. The handful of swings. The handful of defensive plays. In the course of a best-of-seven, a team only gets a handful of shots. Starting Friday, it’ll look different, feel different, even sound different. They’ll carry a season into that game. Six seasons, to some. Thirty, for many.

“We just understand Game 3 is a necessity,” Freese said.

He grinned and shrugged.

“Just like Game 2,” he said. “I thought tonight was must-win. But we’re down 0-2. Historically, that’s not good.

“But, some have, right?”

Some have.

“All right,” he said. “Good.”

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