By Jon Weisman
Late on Tuesday evening, it had started to feel real, more real than it had felt in a long, long time.
Three nights earlier, the Dodgers had nearly stolen Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, despite their most disadvantageous pitching matchup and coming off an exhausting National League Division Series. No matter — over the next two ballgames, the Dodgers completely shut down the best team in baseball during the regular season, allowing not a single Cub to score. The offense pushed across six runs in Game 3, the pitching was as rested as it had been in two weeks.
Los Angeles was two games away from the World Series with four to play.
Four nights later, the Dodgers went to bed with their season over, left to ponder how far they had gone, how close they had come and how short they fell.
“It’s a little bit of a sour taste,” said Dave Roberts, 30 minutes after the official end to his first season managing the Dodgers. “Obviously, if we play a clean three games in 4, 5, 6, there could have been a different outcome. (It was) very uncharacteristic of our guys.”
After his first game of Spring Training more than seven months ago, I asked Roberts if he had time to appreciate the moment, to smell the roses, and he said it wasn’t his nature to do that. With no more games remaining until 2017, I asked him Saturday if he could reflect on his team.
“I just think that there was a lot of growth,” he said, “and I think that how we came together as a team, not only the 25 guys in the clubhouse but guys that helped us get to where we’re at tonight, just the way we played the game every night, with certain adversities, that our guys were accountable (and) made no excuses all year long.
“And I think with that, for me, that’s something that’s a silver lining that really I think going forward, the groundwork of how we play the game … we were short, we came up short, but the result on how we played, there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Clayton Kershaw, who shouldered so much down the stretch trying to make up for lost time, has been through this six times in his nine-year career, including the past four in a row, a club record.
“Tough to swallow tonight, obviously, but I’d much rather be in this situation and fail than not be in this situation at all,” Kershaw said, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. “As much as this does hurt, and as much as I would have liked to win tonight, I’m really thankful to be on a team that has got to be in the postseason four years in a row, and really thankful for that group in the clubhouse that has your back in these situations, and thankful I get to come back next year and try again.”
Dodger president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman marveled at the effort of Kershaw, who missed more than two months with a disk herniation.
“I cannot say enough about what Clayton did,” Friedman told Bill Plunkett of the Register. “Most guys would not have come back at all from what he suffered.”
The disappointment in another season of so close and yet so far is palpable, visceral. Really, baseball gives you such a long season, demands so much of you, that any contending team is going to experience belief and despair along the way — even the NL champion Cubs felt it just a few days ago. That the Dodgers were the last ballclub eliminated before the World Series must mean something.
Or mustn’t it? Does coming close matter some, or not at all? Was this 173-game season worth it? That’s for each fan to decide for herself and himself. As I look back on the past nine seasons with six playoff appearances, three ending in the NLDS, three ending in the NLCS, I can pinpoint all the moments when things turned south. I wish that one, just one, had gone the other way.
But there have been so many good times packed into the past decade. I guess it’s funny that the longer we go without the ultimate victory, the more I treasure those.
[mlbvideo id=”1208738183″ width=”550″ height=”308″ /]