On the ground floor of Dodger Stadium, inside a makeshift room set up for press briefings, a television relayed the joy emanating from the field outside. Astros manager A.J. Hinch climbed onto a stage and declared Houston a city of champions. George Springer, the World Series MVP, stood next to a Chevy truck. Carlos Correa proposed to his girlfriend.
The images flickered across the screen in the moments immediately after a 5-1 defeat ended the Dodgers' season in Game 7 of the World Series. After a historic regular season and an idyllic path to their first National League pennant since 1988, the campaign of this group ended with a thud, with a disastrous start by hired gun Yu Darvish and a maddening performance by the offense. The combination allowed the Astros to dance and spray champagne inside the Dodgers' ballpark, long after the majority of the 54,124 fans had filed toward the exits.
Inside the press room, an MLB official signaled to a staffer: When Dodgers manager Dave Roberts enters the room, "kill the TVs." On cue, Roberts entered and slumped into a chair. He sighed and waited for questions.
"It hurts," Roberts said. "And it's supposed to hurt."
The end came on the first day of November, deeper than any Dodgers team had traveled in a generation. During the long months before the next spring dawns, they will ruminate over how close they came, and how far they remained. The decision to trust Darvish in Game 7, a choice made based on reason and probability, backfired in stunning, season-ending fashion. A relentless force for so long, the lineup picked an inopportune evening to go one for 13 with runners in scoring position.
Inside the clubhouse, the players said their goodbyes and embraced each other. Kenley Jansen looked glassy-eyed. Darvish looked worse. Clayton Kershaw tried his best to maintain perspective.
"When you think about how close we were," Kershaw said, "that makes it too hard to think about."
The proximity only amplifies the sting. These Dodgers won 104 games, the most since the franchise left Brooklyn. They captured a fifth consecutive division title. But Dodger Stadium does not reward banners for regular-season accomplishments. For this organization, the standard is higher.
This group reached this stage as a unit. And they fell as a unit. Darvish wore the weight of the defeat, giving up five runs and failing to finish the second inning. The lineup could not lift him up. Justin Turner batted .160 in this series. Yasiel Puig hit .148. Cody Bellinger hit .143. Jansen blew a save in Game 2. Kershaw could not make seven runs of support stand up in Game 5.
Yet as the day began, Roberts hoped to hand the baseball to Jansen and Kershaw for the final nine outs. Darvish scuttled that plan.
Darvish made two starts in this series. He collected 10 outs total, five in each, melting down in Game 3 and again Wednesday. The first combustion exhausted the bullpen and contributed to another defeat two days later. The second ended the season. "Everyone has really awful days," Darvish said.
The failure by Darvish was only magnified by the pitchers who followed him onto the mound. Kershaw strung together four innings of scoreless relief to keep the Dodgers within sight of their guests. Roberts downplayed the suggestion that either Kershaw or Alex Wood should have started in Darvish's place. Wood had never pitched on short rest, and Kershaw was only three days removed from his trouble in Houston.
"You don't know what you're going to get from either of those two guys," Roberts said. "I think it's unfair to Yu. There is always going to be second-guessing. We felt good with Yu starting the game."
The feeling did not last long. Springer haunted the Dodgers during the first six games of this series. He had batted .375 and homered four times, including crushing blows in Game 2 and Game 5. He opened the finale by ripping a double into left field. It was an inauspicious start. What followed was worse.
Astros third baseman Alex Bregman hit a grounder to the right side of the infield. Cody Bellinger swept into the hole to make the play. He spun so he could feed Darvish at first base. The throw went behind the pitcher, allowing Springer to score and Bregman to reach second base. After Bregman stole third, he scored on a groundout by Jose Altuve.
The bottom fell out beneath Darvish in the second. His unraveling began by walking catcher Brian McCann. Houston outfielder Marwin Gonzalez doubled. Two batters later, pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. brought home McCann with a productive out, capitalizing on a slow grounder to second and the Dodgers keeping their infielders back.
The lineup turned over and there stood Springer. In the bullpen was Brandon Morrow, the setup man who had pitched in every game of this series. With the pitcher's spot due up third in the next inning, Roberts hoped Darvish could procure one more out to finish the frame. Roberts placed his faith in the wrong man.
"I understand that it's Game 7," Roberts said. "But I just felt his stuff was good. Anything other than a homer would have been considerably better."
Darvish fell behind in the count to Springer. He hung a 3-1 slider, but Springer missed it. There was no doubt about the next pitch, a 96-mph fastball that Springer blasted into the left-center pavilion. The Astros erupted in their dugout, spilling bodies and sunflower seeds onto the dirt beyond the bench.
Darvish strode through the boos of Dodgers fans into the dugout. He descended a set of steps to the clubhouse and out of sight.
If the performance by Darvish caused heartache, the at-bats by the Dodgers caused heartburn. Astros starter McCullers lacked command and set a World Series record by hitting four batters. He did not permit a run.
The sequences defined aggravation.
Joc Pederson grounded out with the bases loaded in the first. With two on and one out in the second, Chris Taylor lined into an inning-ending double play. After Seager singled and Turner was drilled with a fastball for the second time, McCullers stuck around to strike out Bellinger for the fifth time in a row, dating to Game 3, before reliever Brad Peacock stranded the two runners.
Another opportunity evaded their grasp in the fifth. Peacock walked Seager. Turner singled. The pace of the game slowed to a crawl as Astros manager A.J. Hinch used left-handed reliever Francisco Liriano to induce a groundout from Bellinger and used right-handed reliever Chris Devenski to get Puig to hit a soft lineout to first.
With two on in the sixth, Andre Ethier hopped off the bench. In what was probably his final at-bat as a Dodger, he threaded an RBI single through the right side of the infield to make it 5-1. The ballpark came alive. It was false hope: Astros pitcher Charlie Morton struck out Taylor and shattered Seager's bat to leave two more men aboard.
The Dodgers did not challenge again. At 8:58 p.m., Seager hit a grounder to the right side. Altuve fielded it and made the throw to first base. Seager slipped through the throng of Astros back to his dugout, where several players watched the celebration from the railing.
They had come so close. They were still so far. The winter would not make it easier.
"It's going to take a while," Jansen said. "It breaks your heart."