ST. LOUIS – So the Dodgers lost, which they probably had coming, given what happened on the ninth pitch of the NLCS, that being the fastball that broke Hanley Ramirez's rib.
They weren't the same team after that, try as they did to patch him up just enough to stand out there and look semi-Hanley-ish.
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As they fell behind in the series but not entirely out of it, with one or two games in St. Louis remaining, their old-soul catcher, A.J. Ellis, observed, "It's hard to be a $220-million team and be the underdog. But, we're there again."
Yes, the oxymoronic Dodgers – "oxy" as in "beast of burden-like," "moronic" as in "Mickey Mouse stuff" – probably, in the end, did what they could with what they had, which was plenty and still not enough. They'd lived a full season. They were the best team on paper, then they were terrible, then the manager would be fired in the next, oh, 10 minutes. Then they were great, then Magic would Tweet something kind of goofy, then they commandeered an apparently private pool, then they – gasp – started their ace on three days' rest, and finally they were outplayed by a better team. Fortunately, just to keep things interesting, they had Yasiel Puig, who sparked national deliberation over the meaning of life versus cut-off men. Cut-off men won.
A nice vibe showed up at Dodger Stadium for the first time in years. A signature franchise was healthy again. New ownership had spent money well, generally. The general manager had made reasonable trades. The manager had them playing hard. It reminded some of the days when the Dodgers could be counted on for sustained relevance, rather than shameful opulence.
The big new video screens would tell the story of a franchise, and the big new speakers would melt every eardrum in the place, and Gibby would be choo-choo-ing his arm out around second base, and people would cheer for the millionth time, and the thought would come, "The Dodgers need a new moment. Nobody needs it more than them."
[Photos: Dodgers vs. Cardinals in NLCS]
All due respect to Kirk Gibson and the boys, but 1988 was 25 years ago, and that many World Series ago, and 14 (with still a chance to be 15) different champions ago. As far as World Series impact over the past quarter-century, the Dodgers even trail Disgraceful Labor Shutdown 1-0. But, then, the DLS had a bigger payroll.
These Dodgers, by late Friday night, weren't playing for all that specifically. They sat by their lockers, sodden by rain and the whipping the Cardinals had put on them. Matt Kemp, who'd played 73 games all year, 11 after mid-summer and none since late September, wore a blue hoodie, gray uniform pants, a wool cap, and shower shoes. And a limp. Clayton Kershaw's shoulders sagged. "This one's on me," he said. In his two NLCS starts, the Dodgers scored zero runs. Ellis talked about the sting of it all. Don Mattingly was with his coaches in his office, most of them stripped to their long johns. Said Ned Colletti: "He and I will talk in the next couple days." Mattingly will be back, because he's good at what he does, and as much as people overrate what a manager can do on the top step, they underrate what a manager can do in the clubhouse.
Yeah, they failed. They'd set out to win a championship. They were six wins short of that, which is close, but not really. And now the games give way to reality. Kershaw is a year from free agency and the best pitcher in the game. He'll require a very large contract extension. The outfield is crowded and it could be that one of Andre Ethier or Kemp will be traded. The bullpen in front of Kenley Jansen will need work. So will third base.
Ramirez is a year from free agency. The club holds an option on second baseman Mark Ellis for next season, but the Dodgers remain heavy favorites to sign Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, which could come quickly.
Change is coming. Maybe they warm to the notion of Robinson Cano. Maybe the Miami Marlins warm to the idea of trading Giancarlo Stanton. Maybe David Price can be had. There's a lot to sort through, more than can be accomplished at the end of a rainy night in St. Louis. They'd been interesting, the Dodgers. They'd been fun. They'd been less than we thought, then more than we thought and, finally, about where they belonged.
"I think we made great strides," said Colletti, one cowboy boot resting atop a clubhouse crate. "Unless you finish the year with a parade, you're never satisfied. But we made great strides."
It'll do, but it's not the next moment. That's still out there somewhere, looking semi-moment-ish.