The manager bore responsibility for the seventh inning. The closer botched the eighth. And in the ninth, with the lead gone and the energy leaking from Dodger Stadium, the tattered remnants of the bullpen imploded.
Call it a historic collapse. Call it a systematic breakdown. Call it the early onset of winter. All apply, yet none precisely captures the bitterness of Game 4 of the World Series, a 9-6 defeat to the Boston Red Sox, when the Dodgers stood on the verge of tying this series and let the opportunity slip through their collective fingers.
"It's a tough loss," manager Dave Roberts said. "Any loss in the World Series is difficult. Obviously."
Few will sting like Saturday. Up four runs in the seventh inning, eight outs away from a shutout, the Dodgers crumbled. Presented limited options, Roberts pressed the wrong buttons. Kenley Jansen combusted once again. In the ninth, the trio of Dylan Floro, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda could not stymie the most prolific offense in baseball, giving up five runs.
Floro permitted a double to Brock Holt and go-ahead RBI single to Rafael Devers as Dodger Stadium hushed with shock. The stands emptied when Steve Pearce roped a three-run double off Maeda and shortstop Xander Bogaerts added an RBI single. The crowd stirred when Enrique Hernandez hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning, but the damage was done, and the Dodgers slinked back to their clubhouse trailing three games to one.
In the aftermath, Roberts was questioned about both his decision to intervene and the players he chose. After a three-run homer by Yasiel Puig created a 4-0 cushion in the sixth, Roberts spoke with Rich Hill, who had thrown six scoreless innings up to that point. The pitcher still informed his manager to "keep an eye on me" in the seventh, as Roberts recalled.
Handed that directive, Roberts left the dugout after Hill walked one batter and struck out another. The decision backfired spectacularly when Scott Alexander walked a batter and Ryan Madson served up a three-run homer to Red Sox reserve Mitch Moreland.
The Dodgers still led by a run, but the night deteriorated from there. Called into action in the eighth inning for the second day in a row, Kenley Jansen blew a save for the second day in a row. Once more he was victimized by a solo home run, as Pearce lifted a thigh-high cutter over the center-field fence. A smattering of jeers greeted Jansen as he left the mound.
"We're all disappointed," Jansen said. "At this point, we can't think about what happened."
Lingering on Game 4 will only cause agita. The Dodgers will try to extend their season with Clayton Kershaw on the mound for Game 5 on Sunday. Kershaw will face David Price, who appeared in relief Friday.
The teams returned to the diamond Saturday after the preposterous marathon of Game 3. The game required 18 innings. It lasted seven hours and 20 minutes, longer than any other in postseason history. It ended at 12:30 a.m.. Roberts fell asleep around 3 a.m. He rose in time to be at the ballpark the next morning. He had drained three cups of coffee before his session with reporters around 1:45 p.m.
"It's the World Series, man," Roberts said. "If you can't get up for this, man, you've got to find something else to do."
The Dodgers engaged in some late-night chicanery after Game 3. Because Boston used potential Game 4 starter Nathan Eovaldi for six innings in relief, Red Sox manager Alex Cora could not immediately say who would take the mound in Eovaldi's place. The Dodgers countered by listing their starter as "T.B.D.," even though Hill had left Dodger Stadium thinking he would start.
The intrigue lasted only 12 hours. The Dodgers announced Hill as their starter a few hours before the first pitch. Roberts insisted the team was pondering using a relief pitcher to open the game, a strategy the team had not employed all season. The gambit was nixed, and Hill got the call.
Boston countered with Eduardo Rodriguez, who had faced a batter the night before.The Dodgers could not tax him until the sixth. A throwing error by catcher Christian Vazquez handed the Dodgers a run, and opened the door for Puig. Rodriguez fell behind in the count. He flung a 3-1 fastball down the middle. Puig bashed it into the left-field pavilion and cavorted around the bases.
As the ballpark rumbled, Roberts consulted with Hill. After the game, the pitcher would confirm that he told the manager they should evaluate the situation after each batter in the seventh. Hill said he did not suggest he was tiring.
"I felt like I was throwing the ball well, though," Hill said, adding "I just didn't want to end up in a situation where we ended up putting the team at risk of getting us in a situation where it's like, OK, well, one too many hitters."
Roberts indicated he had never before had a conversation like this with Hill. "He did everything to put us in a position to win a baseball game," Roberts said.
The party died down when Hill issued a leadoff walk to Bogaerts. After Hill struck out Nunez, Roberts visited the mound. He elected to let left-handed reliever Alexander face Holt, a left-handed hitter, even though Hill is also a left-hander. Roberts indicated he chose Alexander, who was not a member of the NL Championship Series roster, because has faced left-handed hitters "all year long."
"We have to pick each other up," Roberts said.
Alexander threw four balls in a row and exited the scene. Into the fray came Madson. The more effective reliever would have been Pedro Baez, but Roberts said he was considered unavailable after three appearances in the Series and two innings in Game 3. Maeda had also thrown two innings Friday. That left Madson, who needed only two pitches during his Game 3 appearance.
So much of the agony of this series has resulted from Madson's right arm. He permitted all five of his inherited runners to score in the first two games. He added two more to his tally Saturday.
Moreland arrived as a pinch-hitter. Madson left a changeup at Moreland's waist. Moreland crushed the ball deep into the right-field bleachers. Standing beneath its arc, Puig put his hands on his head.
"You've got to be your best against that lineup," Madson said. "And obviously I wasn't."
Neither was Jansen. Nor Maeda or Wood or Floro. Nor was Roberts, who pulled the plug too soon on Hill, the only pitcher worth trusting Saturday.
As the players trudged out of the clubhouse, a message was scribbled on a whiteboard near the exit, "3 Wins." A goal-oriented staffer wrote the reminder in the wake of Game 3. Only three victories, the players who strode through the doors to the diamond were reminded, were needed to collect the World Series trophy this organization and this city have craved since 1988.
Now a different number resonated: one. One more defeat, one more stumble against the Red Sox, and the championship dream will be dashed for a 30th consecutive season.
The margin for error is gone. Responsibility resides on the shoulders of many.