Clayton Kershaw was dumbfounded.
How could this happen again?
"I can't really put it into words right now," Kershaw said. "Bad deja vu, all over again."
The Dodgers' season ended with a defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium — again. And, again, Kershaw was on the mound.
"It's hard to think of specifics right now," Kershaw said. "The season ended and I was a big part of the reason why."
This time, Kershaw's attempt to forge an October legacy was ruined by Matt Adams, who hit a seventh-inning, three-run home run that sent the Dodgers crashing to a 3-2 defeat in Game 4 of their National League division series. The Cardinals won the best-of-five series, three games to one, and will face San Francisco in the NL Championship Series.
Kershaw performed considerably better than he did here last year in Game 6 of the NLCS, when he was charged with seven runs in four innings.
Tuesday night, Kershaw blanked the Cardinals for the first six innings. He did so while pitching on only three days' rest, rather than the customary four.
"Clayton was cruising," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "The sixth inning was phenomenal, striking out the side. The epitome of a shut-down inning right there."
The Dodgers scored two runs in the sixth inning and were leading, 2-0, until that fateful seventh.
Matt Holliday led off with a ground ball up the middle that hit the glove of sliding second baseman Dee Gordon. Jhonny Peralta followed with a bloop single that barely evaded the outstretched glove of shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
"Two balls that found holes, just out of the reach of our middle infielders," Ellis said.
Rookies Pedro Baez and Carlos Frias were warming up in the bullpen, but Manager Don Mattingly stayed with Kershaw, especially with the left-handed-hitting Adams coming up.
Adams batted .190 in the regular season against left-handed pitchers. He was hitless in his two previous at-bats in this game against the left-handed Kershaw, although he did have an RBI single off Kershaw in the Cardinals' big seventh inning of Game 1.
Adams swung at the first pitch and missed. Kershaw's 102nd pitch of the game was a curveball that stayed high in the strike zone. Adams blasted it into the Cardinals' bullpen.
"Obviously, the Adams one is the one that can't happen," Kershaw said.
Adams leaped down the first base line.
"I don't think I touched the ground the whole way around the bases," Adams said.
Adams not only won the game and the series for the Cardinals, he became the first left-handed-hitter to ever hit a Kershaw curve for a home run.
Kershaw lost two games in this series to the Cardinals, who ambushed him for eight runs in Game 1. He also dropped two games to them last year in the NLCS.
"I feel like I have the ability to get these guys out," he said. "Obviously, 0-4 now, so that doesn't feel good. Give them credit. They're a good team. They just beat me. I don't know. I don't think it's anything magic. They're just getting hits right now."
The heartbreaking defeat marked an unbecoming end to one of the greatest seasons by a pitcher in franchise history.
Kershaw was 21-3 in the regular season. With a 1.77 earned-run average, he became the first pitcher to lead the major leagues in that category for four consecutive seasons. He pitched six shutouts, including his first no-hitter.
In the coming weeks, he figures to win his third Cy Young Award and first most-valuable-player award.
But unlike Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser before him, Kershaw failed to adorn his historic season with a World Series ring.
As for the Dodgers, they are now 26 years removed from their last World Series championship.
Ellis cried at his locker, his face buried in his hands.
"It's devastating," Ellis said. "It brings up thoughts of last year again.
"You don't know how many chances you're going to be able to do this. There are no guarantees in life. There are no guarantees in baseball."
The loss demonstrated that. The Dodgers won 94 games, captured their second consecutive NL West title and are now like the 25 other eliminated teams.
"We definitely had high expectations for ourselves," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "We didn't come through when we needed to."