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Hopes of ending season with a title evaporate in a Game 7 flash

Los Angeles Dodgers players comment on losing Game 7 of the World Series to the Houston Astros.

The drought continues. The emptiness remains. The ache returns.

After waiting 29 years for their championship moment, Dodgers fans watched their hopes disintegrate Wednesday night in about 29 minutes.

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It was so quick. It was so brutal. It was Blue Hell on Earth.

In the seventh and deciding game of an epic World Series that spent a week leaving Los Angeles on edge, the Houston Astros swiftly turned the town numb with a stunning opening punch that resulted in an eventual 5-1 victory at a somber Dodger Stadium.

"It breaks your heart," closer Kenley Jansen said.

It was over as quick as two Astros first-inning runs on a double, a throwing error, a stolen base and a ground ball.

It was finished as fast as three second-inning runs on a walk, a double, a groundout and a home run.

It was ruined as swiftly as you can say "Yu Darvish."

Five runs in two innings against a dreadful Darvish, the Astros dugout was filled with dancing, the Dodgers were stunned and reeling, and a once-roaring Chavez Ravine was staggered into long silences.

It stung. It stunk. And even though the Dodgers eventually scratched across a run, their early hole forced them to desperately swing from their heels, their flailing left 10 men on base, and it was over, just like that, the Astros winning their first championship in the franchise's 55-year history, while the Dodgers are stopped short again.

"It sucks," Jansen said.

It ended at 8:58 p.m., when Jose Altuve caught a Corey Seager grounder and threw it to Yuli Gurriel at first base, the Astros streaming on to the field leaping and holding their heads in joy and disbelief.

On the other side, some of the Dodgers scampered into the dugout tunnel. Others remained hanging on the rail, staring at a celebration that has again eluded them.

Later, on the field-level concourse, amid a strong smell of marijuana, sullen departing Dodgers fans screamed about Darvish, screamed at Astros fans, screamed in pain.

"You feel disappointment, you let your fans down, the city of L.A. needed this," Jansen said.

It is the fifth consecutive year that a Dodgers playoff appearance has ended in defeat. And, yes, it has been 29 years and counting since they last won a World Series, a drought so painful that the last manager to win it here, Tommy Lasorda, grabbed Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on the eve of Game 7 with some advice.

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"You ain't done until you win tomorrow," Lasorda told Roberts.

While that's how it might feel right now, that's just not true. These Dodgers did plenty. These Dodgers won a franchise-record 104 regular-season games. They breezed through the first two rounds in the playoffs while creating moments like Justin Turner's walk-off homer against the Chicago Cubs on the 29th anniversary of the Kirk Gibson blast.

They brought a World Series to town for the first time in 29 years. They brought the series to the brink of victorious completion. They ended up only nine innings from a title while playing the biggest baseball game in this city's history.

This is not like the previous four years of playoff failures. This year the Dodgers took a big step forward, the hope was tangible, the success was real.

"There's a lot to be proud of," Roberts said. "What we accomplished this season … a really special group of men."

Not that it felt much like that Wednesday night. At the end of a World Series in which they gave away two big leads in losses that seemed like certain victories, then end it with an absolute clunker, their gains seemed little consolation.

"Everybody has had a lot of ups this year," reliever Brandon Morrow said. "Unfortunately, this is the biggest downer."

In Game 2, needing only three outs for a victory, baseball's best closer, Jansen, couldn't close it, and they lost.

Then, in Game 5, needing only to hold a four-run lead like he had done in each of 19 previous similar situations this season, Clayton Kershaw lost that lead in the fourth inning, and another lead in the fifth inning, as the Dodgers lost again.

All of which set up Game 7, which began with the Dodgers huddling and bouncing in their dugout. But they were soon stumbling on the field.

George Springer, the Series MVP, led off with a double inside the left-field line. Alex Bregman then grounded the next pitch to first baseman Cody Bellinger, who moved to his left to grab the ball, then turned and threw it to Darvish covering first base. Except the ball was thrown behind Darvish and bounced into the Astros dugout, allowing Springer to score and moving Bregman to second. Taking advantage of early Dodgers distraction, Bregman quickly stole third base and scored on Carlos Correa's grounder.

"We could have easily won that game, won the Series, but that's how the game goes, sometime the baseball doesn't go your way," said Bellinger, who again struggled during a couple of stunted Dodgers rallies while watching his World Series average fall to .143 with 17 strikeouts.

The first inning was the preface for Darvish's destruction in the second, when he blew an 0-and-2 count against Brian McCann by walking the catcher on eight pitches, then gave a double to right-center field by Marwin Gonzalez. One out later, Lance McCullers Jr. chopped a ball on to the infield grass past the mound to drive in McCann and then, on a full-count fat fastball, Springer drove a ball into the left-center field seats for his fifth homer of the Series.

Astros players jumped their dugout rail in celebration. Somebody threw a cup of ice from the Astros bench.

Darvish was escorted from the mound to a smattering of boos.

"This pain is going to stay with me for a while," he said.

When he was acquired from the Texas Rangers in the summer, he was one of the biggest midseason acquisitions in recent Dodgers history. But in a matter of six days, he has become one of the biggest Dodgers busts ever.

In two World Series starts, Darvish gave up eight runs in 31/3 innings for an astronomical 21.60 ERA. He never seemed comfortable on the giant stage. He is a free agent this offseason, and it would be hard to find anyone in quickly emptying Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night who wanted him to return.

Darvish was so bad, many fans were instantly wondering why he even started this game in place of Kershaw, who eventually replaced him and threw four scoreless innings. But the Dodgers made the right move. Kershaw would be starting on two days of rest after being rocked in Game 5. Darvish was acquired specifically so Kershaw would not have to pitch on short rest.

The Dodgers met behind the closed doors of their clubhouse for a long time afterward. They talked about their triumphs. They promised to learn from their failures. They vowed to get back.

"We have to make sure we feel the pain, and the pain will motivate us," Jansen said. "Last year we used the loss in Chicago to motivate us. This year that pain is even greater, and our motivation next year will be even greater."

It is a pain shared today by an entire city. Game 7 was supposed to last a lifetime. It barely lasted a minute. The forever baseball season is over.

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Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

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