It has stared at them for a year now, dancing beyond their reach, swaggering around their pain, teasing, taunting, challenging.
On a cold Saturday night at Miller Park, a blue-hot baseball team finally confronted their demon, stuck their chin in its face, and challenged it to another fight.
Welcome back, Dodgers, to the World Series.
Welcome back to your dream. Welcome back to your nightmare.
This time, one more win, OK?
After spending six months investing all their energy in returning to the spot that left them so empty, the Dodgers were rewarded with a second consecutive World Series berth after a 5-1 comeback victory over the Milwaukee Brewers in the deciding Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
They will play the favored American League champion Boston Red Sox beginning Tuesday in Boston, a tough task, but the Dodgers will revel in it. After losing last year’s World Series to the Houston Astros in Game 7, they spent all season in search of redemption, and they finally earned that chance on a night of rich history and dazzling beauty.
And, oh yeah, also a night of poetic symmetry, as the final score exactly matched the score of last year’s lost World Series Game 7.
“It’s a magical thing,” said co-owner Peter Guber, standing amid the spraying champagne of the Dodgers’ fourth such party in three weeks.
It ended with Clayton Kershaw fittingly on the mound, the ace pitching the ninth inning in relief, his giant figure smothered by hugging and leaping Dodgers who clearly can’t wait to begin the final leg of their journey.
“There was a message in last year’s Game 7, we learned from that as a team, and everybody thought about this moment, getting back to the World Series,” said Chris Taylor.
The franchise’s first consecutive World Series appearances in 40 years was a milestone that crossed time zones. Back in Los Angeles, in the middle of LeBron James’ Staples Center debut, the video board broadcast the final out to a roaring crowd and Randy Newman singing, “I Love L.A.’”
In the joyous Miller Park visiting clubhouse, any singing would have been drowned out by the spraying and screaming and thinking about the next step.
“It’s not a time to take a breath and relax,’’ said Justin Turner. “We’re not satisfied with being there. We want to show up and win four games and be the last team standing.’’
This was the 30th anniversary of the day the Dodgers clinched their last World Series championship, a reminder of the drought that shadows their every move. Yet it was a victory filled with the kind of memories that could allow this bunch to write a new history.
They won with an audacious two-strike bunt single by the constantly booed Manny Machado that led to a two-run homer by Cody Bellinger in the second inning.
“It was unbelievable how he actually got the bunt down, and to think about getting the bunt down,” said Bellinger.
They won with a stunning, lunging, over-the-shoulder catch by Taylor in deep left field to keep the tying run from scoring in in the fifth inning.
“It was a big moment,’’ said Taylor. “I’m just glad I made the play.”
They won with rookie starter Walker Buehler rising up to equal the biggest moment of his young career with one allowed run in 42/3 innings, and kid Julio Urias coming out of nowhere to record the biggest out of his career.
And, of course, this emotionally swinging team couldn’t have done it without Yasiel Puig putting on a nutty show with a game-clinching three-run homer in the sixth inning featuring an accompanying trot filled with a veritable Swiss Army knife of gestures.
He did a crotch chop. He did a throat slash. He did a chest thump. He raised the roof. He danced in the dirt.
It was all in good fun, but there is much more fun to be had, if they can navigate the difficulties awaiting them next week at Fenway Park.
“Great for baseball, two storied franchises going head to head,” said Dodger manager Dave Roberts. “It’s going to be a great series.”
Any of that sound familiar? They sound just like the Dodgers in last season’s World Series against the Houston Astros, no?
So anything can happen, something which the Dodgers proved in this NLCS, a thrill ride featuring memorable highs and striking lows.
“This is definitely a more battle-tested group,” said General Manager Farhan Zaidi. “Last year we kind of cruised through the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. This year has definitely been more of a grind getting to this point.”
The Dodgers could have clinched this Friday, but suffered a dispirited Game 6 loss, sending them stumbling into Game 7. But once they arrived, they soared.
“We had a lot of doubters along the way, but not in here, nobody doubted us in here,” said Taylor.
After Christian Yelich had given the Brewers a 1-0 lead after with a first-inning homer, Machado led off the second amid deafening boos by taking a huge risk with a two-strike bunt attempt. It was a perfect, the ball crawling toward third base, and he was safe at first with a single.
When Machado stopped running, he endeared himself further to all of Wisconsin by grabbing his crotch, a vile gesture by a bad actor, at which point the fans chanted, “You still suck, you still suck!” But four pitches later, it was all forgotten when Bellinger, who was named the NLCS MVP, drove a pitch into the right-field seats, adding to his game-winning hit in the 13th inning in Game 4.
The lead seemed on the verge of evaporating in the fifth inning after Lorenzo Cain hit a two-out double into the left-field corner, chasing Buehler and bringing in Urias, who pitched in three regular season games while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Yelich greeted Urias with a line shot deep to left-center field, but somehow Taylor was able to chase it down and nab it with an outstretched glove while running and falling with his back to home plate.
It ended the inning and essentially demoralized the Brewers, who never made much of a peep again.
As for that 30th-anniversary stuff, Orel Hershiser, the winning pitcher in that last World Series championship victory against Oakland, recently turned 60. The winning manager, Tom Lasorda, is 91.
That last title was a long time ago. The Dodgers’ close call last October made the drought seem even longer.
Now they have another shot. That’s all they’ve wanted. They played like it on Saturday night. Bring on the demon. Bring on the dream.