SAN DIEGO — Three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, still in uniform, reached into the cooler to grab a couple of Pacifico beers Saturday night before retreating to his locker.
Third baseman Justin Turner, the heart and soul of the team, sat in front of his locker with his head buried in his hands.
Manager Dave Roberts, who in spring training guaranteed the Los Angeles Dodgers would win the World Series, stared blankly ahead in an interview room.
All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman, like most of his teammates, quickly dressed, and addressed reporters about the cruelty of postseason.
“October baseball,” Freeman said, “can be brutal.”
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It was a night they never envisioned happening, a 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres, their glorious season going up in smoke in four games in the National League Division Series.
The loss sent them home for the winter, ruining their 111-victory season, leaving them in a daze, trying to figure out what happened.
“Shock factor, very high,” Roberts said. “Disappointment, very high. It’s crushing.
“Nothing I can say is going to make it feel any better.
“Obviously we didn’t expect to be in this position.”
This wasn’t supposed to happen to the Dodgers. Not this year. They were too deep. Too talented. Too rich. Too shrewd.
It was the best team money can buy.
They were planning to be on parade floats in November in downtown Los Angeles, celebrating their first World Series title in a full season since 1988.
They instead were left as a dubious footnote in history, becoming the first team since the Chicago Cubs in the 1906 World Series to lose a postseason series to a team with 22 fewer regular-season victories.
“I don’t think any of us expected to lose tonight,” Kershaw said. “I don’t think any of us expected to be going home tomorrow. It’s a weird feeling.”
The Dodgers have not won a World Series in a full season in 34 years, so they are used to October letdowns, but this one felt different than all of the rest.
“Hugely disappointing how it ended,” Roberts said. “I think that right now it just stings a lot more in the moment. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to sort of look back and appreciate what we did do.”
The Dodgers may never fully grasp what they accomplished in 2022, winning the most games in franchise history, the second-most ever by a National League club, and producing one of the most dominating regular seasons in the past 80 years.
Still, with a quick exit, they couldn’t help but feel as if it was a completely wasted season.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to really care, you know?” Kershaw said. “It’s just another good regular season.”
And yet another absolutely dreadful postseason.
“When you don’t win the World Series,” Freeman said, “it doesn’t matter if you won 80 games or 120 games. It’s just a disappointment …
“It doesn’t take away the fact that this was a really good baseball team. We just didn’t win the World Series this year.”
Freeman, who earned his sixth All-Star nomination and will likely finish in the top five in the MVP balloting, was stopped by teammates and coaches hugging him, telling him thanks, and congratulating him on his season.
He appreciated the sentiments, but was left with a feeling of emptiness, knowing it wasn’t good enough.
“I’ll take away that we lost,” Freeman said. “I’ve been in a lot of October series we thought we were going to win, and we didn’t. There’s just a lot of disappointment.
“This is what, my 13th season, and I’ve only got one World Series, so that’s a lot of disappointments that I’ve had.”
This one, of course, may sting the most.
The Dodgers were a runaway train all season. They won their 100th game with three weeks remaining. They bludgeoned their opponents, outscoring them by 334 runs, the most by any team since the 1939 New York Yankees. They led the major leagues in runs. They led the league in fewest runs allowed. Their starters led the league in ERA. Their bullpen led the league in ERA.
Everywhere you turned, there was greatness.
Right up until the time they played the Padres, a team they had bullied for the past decade, beating them 23 times in the previous 28 games.
The Dodgers’ offense disappeared at the wrong time. They scored just 12 runs and had a .227/.302/.402 slash line in the series. They were putrid with runners in scoring position, batting .147 that including a zero-for-20 streak. They managed one meager run in 16 innings against the Padres bullpen.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the Padres,” said Kershaw, who plans to return for another season. “They played really well. They had great (at-bats) the whole series, and made big pitches when they had to.
“They played better than us. It’s hard to admit sometimes, but it’s the honest truth that they just beat us.”
Who knows, the Padres will tell you they might have been the hungrier team. They openly questioned why the Dodgers would remove starter Tyler Anderson after he dominated them for five shutout innings, yielding just two hits. They wanted to know what was going on with their strange bullpen decisions during their meltdown in the seventh inning.
It was an inning that will haunt the Dodgers all winter, watching a 3-0 lead turn into a 5-3 deficit that they could never recover. They had gone 74-0 when having a three-run lead or greater in the seventh inning until Saturday’s debacle.
“We had a really great team,” said Dodgers All-Star right fielder Mookie Betts, who hit .143 with one extra-base hit. “Won 111 games. It was super cool to win that many games, but it means absolutely nothing if you lose in the postseason.”
It will take time to fully dissect the season, but the emotions were too raw now to really ascertain why it unraveled.
“They all suck,” said Justin Turner, who hit .154 without an extra-base hit, run, or RBI. “Obviously, the goal is to win a championship. To fall short of that in any round doesn’t matter.”
The Padres, of course, took great pride in reaching the NLCS, knocking off the Dodgers for the first time in a playoff series in their 54-year history. To them, it was David vs. Goliath, Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson and the U.S. hockey team vs. the Soviet Union, all rolled into one huge underdog.
“I’d feel the same no matter who we played if we lost,” Turner says. “Doesn’t matter if you win 111 games, 88 games, if you get in playoffs it’s about a short series.
“It’s about winning three games. They accomplished that.”
The Dodgers won just one game in the best-of-five series, losing in a manner that did not bring tears, but left them searching for answers, wondering how long it will take to recover.
“There’s certainly fans that are going to think it was a wasted season,” Roberts says. “I don’t think there’s anybody in our clubhouse, in uniform or with the Dodgers, that feels that way. But every person has their opinions, which they’re entitled.
“This one hurts.”
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