Thirty-two years of Dodgers dreaming has at last awakened on the threshold of reality.
One more day. One more game. One more win.
The end of a legendary championship drought is dramatically poised on your doorstep, Los Angeles, knocking, knocking, knocking …
Can you hear it? Can you feel it?
Hours after it never seemed so far away, it suddenly has never seemed so close, the Dodgers now within a whisker of their first World Series title since 1988 after Sunday’s 4-2 Game 5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Nine more innings. Twenty-seven more outs. Three and a half more hours.
The Dodgers now lead the series three games to two and can clinch the title against the Rays as soon as Tuesday night in Game 6 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
The Rays will have the edge in the pitching matchup with former Cy Young winner Blake Snell facing rookie Tony Gonsolin, but the Dodgers have the advantage of being able to save ace Walker Buehler and use him on full rest in a potential Game 7.
This could be happening, people. This really could be happening.
“We expect to win,” manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s all we’re thinking about.”
Max Muncy, who homered Sunday, can feel it.
“We’re going to try not to get ahead of ourselves too much,” he said. “Tomorrow might be a different story with the off day.”
Clayton Kershaw, the singular symbol of the Dodgers’ October failures who grinded his way toward October redemption with nearly six strong innings, can feel it.
“Sitting around, one win away from a World Series, is going to be hard,” he said.
A day after an epic ninth-inning collapse that led to a series-tying Tampa Bay victory, the Dodgers cured their hangover Sunday with the fabled hair of the dog.
The bullpen that destroyed them saved them. The decisions of Roberts that ruined them rescued them.
Kershaw started it, Joc Pederson and Muncy fueled it with homers in the early and middle innings, but the story was in how the Dodgers finished it. Because this time, with all of Dodger Nation surely holding its breath and covering its eyes and fearing a repeat of Saturday night, they actually finished it.
With Rays runners on first and second with one out in the eighth inning, rookie Victor González fooled both Randy Arozarena and Brandon Lowe into flyouts to center fielder Cody Bellinger.
Then, with a Rays runner on first and none out in the ninth, Blake Treinen ended the game as easy as one, two, three.
Austin Meadows struck out swinging at a 98-mph fastball. Joey Wendle flied out to Bellinger. Willy Adames struck out flailing at a 97-mph sinker.
Rerun canceled. Sequel shut down. Game over, and if you were hollering to the heavens, you weren’t the only one.
Treinen pounded his right hand into his glove, tilted his head up and screamed. Kershaw leaped so high he nearly jumped out of the dugout. Bellinger pumped his fists as he ran in from center field.
“Biggest stage, biggest game of my career … it’s do or die,” Treinen said, greatly understating it.
The rest of the Dodgers shouted and stalked in both relief and anticipation.
They were relieved that their Game 4 collapse had been rinsed away, and they can’t wait for Tuesday night. Heck, Roberts probably can’t wait for this series to be over with just so people will stop yelling at him.
On a night when he made two more controversial decisions and repeatedly was booed by the majority of the 11,437 fans, Roberts laughed last.
“I just understand that, you know, fans, players get caught up in emotion, and I’m emotional,” Roberts said. “But I still have to have clarity on things … because, ultimately, my job is to help the Dodgers win the World Series. So, yeah, I can’t get caught up in fans’ reactions with a decision I make.”
The commotion began with his handling of a grinding Kershaw, who allowed two runs on five hits early and set a major league record when his sixth strikeout gave him 207 career postseason Ks.
Kershaw hung tough in the fourth when he worked out of a none-out, runners-on-the-corners jam, thanks in part to his best toss of the night. With first baseman Muncy yelling at him to step off the rubber to avoid a balk, Kershaw threw out Manuel Margot as he tried to become the first player to execute a straight steal of home in the World Series since Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson 65 years ago.
“I don’t know if it really happened fast or slow, but I heard Muncy say ‘step off’ and I stepped off and threw home,” Kershaw said. “Glad we got him out there.”
When the game reached two out in the sixth, the Dodgers were leading 4-2 and Kershaw was cruising. He retired the last seven hitters on 20 pitches … yet here came Roberts?
Sure enough, boos everywhere, as Roberts stuck with a pre-inning plan to allow Kershaw to face only two more hitters. He replaced the future Hall of Famer with rookie Dustin May. It seemed like a terrible idea except, well, it worked. May retired five of the six hitters he faced, and the kid was rolling in the eighth when … here came Roberts again?
More boos. More questions. With a runner on first, he replaced May with the rookie González. And if you’ve read this far in the story, you know what happened next. That also worked, as did the one decision by Roberts upon which everyone agreed.
For once, he left Kenley Jansen in the bullpen in the ninth and brought in Treinen, who both literally and figuratively saved the game.
“I didn’t get a chance to see the boos turn to cheers, but that’s OK,” Roberts said.
He’ll get that chance Tuesday night, when those cheers would reverberate through a city’s heart and Dodgers history.
One more day. One more game. One more win.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.