Sunday, June 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Bill Plaschke: Dodgers left us with nothing but memories, some bitter, some sweet

LOS ANGELES — Are you over it yet?

Sigh. Same here. Too soon.

The way the Dodgers’ 2017 season ended was numbing in its finality. Shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday, seven months of a city’s hopes instantly disappeared, as if summer itself was hurriedly swept out of Dodger Stadium into the cooling November air.

Just like that. Finished in nine measly innings. Gone was a championship close enough to touch. Gone was a parade route that already had been arranged. Gone was a team that was going to be remembered forever, but, instead, will be mourned all winter.

One moment Corey Seager is hitting a ground ball toward shallow rightfield and lumbering to first, and the next moment, the green grass is overrun with orange and the stands are bleeding blue and it’s like none of this ever happened.

Well, it happened, 104 wins leading to the Dodgers’ first World Series appearance in 29 years leading to a championship frustratingly lost. It was all real, exciting and enraging, wonderful and wistful, and now that it’s over, it’s certainly worth remembering before the roster is reshaped in hopes of building a team that can win just one more game.

Thus, the most impactful postseason moments, both lovable and lousy, in descending order.

1) The Gibby: What else could this be? Justin Turner’s three-run, walkoff home run to beat the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the championship series on the 29th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s legendary World Series blast was the hit of the postseason.

The roar was so loud, Dodger Stadium literally shook. Fans will long remember Turner sticking out his arms while rounding first base as if flying. Dodgers will long remember the look of wonder on Turner’s shaggy face as he threw off his helmet and crossed home plate into a mob of teammates.

I will long remember talking to the one person in that stadium who wore a Dodger uniform on the night of the Gibson home run. It was former manager Tommy Lasorda, sitting in a motorized scooter in a hallway outside the Dodgers clubhouse, and he wasn’t nearly as excited as I thought he might be.

He knew something the rest of us had forgotten.

"It was great," he said. "But they’re not done yet."

2) Clinching Trey: The Dodgers slugged their way into the World Series in the most unlikely of ways — utility guy Enrique Hernandez hit three home runs in the pennant-clinching, 11-1 victory over the Cubs.

There were three of the fastest home-run sprints in playoff history. Hernandez was more stunned with each swing, so much that after this third home run he actually looked into the Dodgers dugout in disbelief as he ran toward first base.

Afterward in a concrete bunker outside the Dodgers’ ancient Wrigley Field clubhouse, the team celebrated like it had just won the title. I’ve never seen such unbridled joy, tears from Clayton Kershaw, screams from Andre Ethier, and an entire team lifting up Dodgers baseball boss Andrew Friedman while dousing him in beer and champagne.

I’ve never seen a team as close as the Dodgers looked in that moment. This rare bond was what had helped them dominate in this historic season. Surely nobody in that room could have believed it would not be enough.

3) First Pitch: There was not one, but two World Series first pitches that made Dodgers fans believe in magic.

The first occurred in Game 1, when leadoff-hitting Chris Taylor hit the first pitch the Dodgers saw in this series into the leftfield pavilion for a home run against the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel. Who would have thought Taylor would have just have five more hits in a series in which he batted .222?

The second occurred in Game 2, when Vin Scully charmed the nation with a sweet and sentimental first-pitch ceremony in which he gave the ball to Fernando Valenzuela to pitch to Steve Yeager. It might have been the coolest and classiest act ever concocted by the Dodgers marketing folks. Yet by the time the night ended, those laughing and cheering fans had been stunned silent.

4) Closed Closer: The hard truth of this World Series is that even though everyone wants to blame Yu Darvish or Dave Roberts or the sour bats, the Dodgers were ultimately let down by their two best pitchers, and it started in Game 2.

If Kenley Jansen, the game’s best closer, successfully executes an 0-and-2 pitch to Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth inning with a one-run lead, instead of allowing a game-tying homer, maybe it’s the Dodgers eventually clinching in Houston instead of vice versa.

Before that pitch, the Dodgers were 98-0 this season when entering the ninth inning with a lead. The broken goose egg and busted close will long haunt.

5) Mixed Message: The Astros’ Yuli Gurriel homered off Darvish in Game 3, then mocked him with a racist gesture that should have resulted in an immediate suspension. It did not. He was suspended for five games … next season. That was so weak. By allowing Gurriel to not miss a game in a series in which he eventually hit another home run, commissioner Rob Manfred made it clear that baseball’s priority was about getting the highest ratings, not about doing the right thing.

A couple of days later, the Dodgers’ Rich Hill struck back by stepping off the mound a couple of times to allow the boos to wash over Gurriel when the first baseman batted at Dodger Stadium in Game 6. That was arguably the most important Dodgers statement of the postseason, and, after Game 7, I personally thanked Hill for a message that was not at all mixed.

6) Rookie Blues: Cody Bellinger had one of the most exasperating World Series at the plate in history, with a Series record 17 strikeouts that far overshadowed his two doubles that led them to a Game 4 victory. Throw in his .143 batting average and his Game 7 error and it was an overwhelming week for the 22-year-old rookie.

But give him credit. After the Dodgers were eliminated, Bellinger stood in front of his locker and answered more than 30 minutes of questions. He made no excuses. He was accessible and accountable and faced the music like a pro. Here’s guessing this kid will be just fine.

Besides, in a series that also featured sub-.200 averages from a seemingly injured Turner and overeager Yasiel Puig, Bellinger wasn’t the only culprit.

7) Two Bad: So much vitriol has been spewed toward Yu Darvish that I’ll try to make this simple.

He deserved to make two World Series starts. His 21.60 ERA in those two starts might make him the worst starter in World Series history. There’s no way the Dodgers can bring him back. And there’s no way any of this is the fault of Roberts, who had to trust in a proven guy brought here specifically for moments like this.

One more thing. When the Dodgers acquired Darvish from Texas this summer in a celebrated move at the trade deadline, I actually wrote the phrases, "Yu Baby!" and "Yu-Haw!"

Bellinger isn’t the only one who struck out in this series.

8) Fallen Ace: Jansen set up the heartbreak, and Kershaw confirmed it by blowing both a four-run lead and an ensuing three-run lead in the series-turning Game 5 loss. After seemingly escaping his playoff demons, Kershaw was surrounded by them again in such wretched fashion, he actually blew the first lead by giving up a home run after a walk, and the second lead by walking two batters with two outs. Remember when he didn’t walk anybody ever?

None of the ensuing drama happens if Kershaw lives up to his "Best Pitcher on the Planet" moniker. The scoreboard swinging that made the Astros’ 13-12, 10-inning win one of the epic games in World Series history doesn’t occur if this is a normal Kershaw regular-season start.

During that game, with the Dodgers up 4-0 and Kershaw taking the mound in the fourth, I said, "This is over."

Turns out — you can scream one more time here — it was.

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