Column: Fright night for Dodgers, who will be haunted by blown leads

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw talks about his start in Game 5 and Yasiel Puig has a promise to fans.

They had a four-run lead. They had their best pitcher on the mound. They were headed home on the precipice of a championship.

Then, two days before what all of Los Angeles thought could be a celebratory Halloween clinching, the Dodgers stumbled into a nightmare Sunday.

Baseballs disappearing. Pitchers dissolving. A manager twisting. Thousands screaming. Faces gone pale. Blue turned to black.

In a bright and pleasant World Series Game 5 that suddenly became their house of horrors, the Dodgers blew a four-run lead, then blew a three-run lead, then blew a one-run lead, then overcame a three-run deficit in the ninth, then finally fell in a 13-12 loss in 10 innings Sunday to the Houston Astros at a raucous Minute Maid Park.


On a night when the Dodgers won, then the Astros won, then the Dodgers won, then the Astros finally won, the World Series seemingly lost its mind, but the Astros rediscovered their mojo.

“It’s hard to put into words all the twists and turns in that game, the emotion,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said.

In a game that lasted 5 hours, 17 minutes, the Dodgers’ angst over lost opportunities will endure much longer.

“It’s a tough one, no doubt about it,” Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw said.


The madness started when Kershaw fell apart in the fourth inning and couldn’t hold a four-run lead for the first time in 20 occasions this season. It ended when Alex Bregman’s RBI single against Kenley Jansen with two out in the 10th inning brought the Astros flooding out of their dugout in joyous hugs amid deafening cheers.

Those Astros will now dance to Los Angeles with a 3 games to 2 lead and a chance to clinch the best-of-seven championship Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium with one of the best postseason pitchers in recent history on the mound in Justin Verlander. The Dodgers will counter with Rich Hill, who will carry not just some postseason inconsistency but also the baggage of the second game the Dodgers have blown in this series.

“I’m sure everybody’s pretty exhausted after that one, emotionally and physically,” said Kershaw, later adding, “But you know what? We still have a chance at this thing.”

They might not have a better chance, though, than they did on Sunday night.


The Dodgers led, 4-0, in the fourth inning, and the game felt over, considering they were 19-0 this year when Kershaw was given four or more runs.

Think again. The Astros tied it up with four runs in the fourth against Kershaw on a walk, two hits and a three-run homer by Yuli Gurriel off the left-field Lexus sign. Yes, that’s the same Gurriel whose earlier racist gesture in this series earned him a five-game suspension ... for next season.

“They can slug you,” said Dodger manager Dave Roberts of Astros hitters who had five home runs. “They spoil pitches.”


The Dodgers bounced back moments later, taking a three-run lead in the fifth on a couple of walks and a home run into the right-field seats by Cody Bellinger, who rounded first base with his right hand raised as if he were a tour guide leading the Dodgers to victory.

Think again. With two out in the bottom of the fifth, Kershaw tired quickly and walked consecutive hitters, leading manager Dave Roberts to remove his ace and bring in converted reliever Kenta Maeda, who had not allowed a run in nine postseason innings. Moments after that, 5-foot-5 Jose Altuve hit a mammoth fly over the left-center field fence for a three-run homer to tie the game.

“I just lost my command a little bit there in that fourth inning, Kershaw said. “That’s all it took.”

Should Roberts have pulled Kershaw? Absolutely. He had thrown 94 pitches, his third-highest total since returning from a back injury in September. He was clearly gassed. Kershaw, who had seemingly conquered past October demons by leading the Dodgers to wins in each of his four starts this postseason — including Game One of this World Series — is back in purgatory after allowing six runs in less than five innings.


But then the Dodgers regained the lead again in the seventh when Justin Turner, an earlier playoff hero who had only two World Series hits, blasted a double off the right-center field wall. One out later, Bellinger hit a line drive toward center fielder George Springer.

Instead of letting it drop in front of him for a single, Springer attemped a diving catch, missed it, and the ball rolled to the wall while Hernandez scored from first and Bellinger ended up on third base with an RBI triple.

But, alas, the lead didn’t last long. In the bottom of the seventh, the Astros roared back against exhausted reliever Brandon Morrow, working his third straight game. He was inexplicably left on the mound to take a seventh-inning beating, allowing four runs on a double, a single and two home runs.

Morrow, who has pitched in 12 of the Dodgers’ 13 postseason games, gave up a homer on the first pitch to Springer. He gave up a single on his next pitch to Bregman. Two pitches later he gave up a double to Altuve. One pitch after that, he allowed a home run into the left-field stands by Carlos Correa, who was so stunned by the turn of events that he stopped before reaching and turned to lead cheers from his dugout.


Where was manager Dave Roberts? Where was reliever Ross Stripling, who was available in the bullpen? Roberts said before the game he was reluctant to use Morrow, so why did he use him then?

“He called down and said that he felt good,’’ said Roberts. “So, in the seventh inning you can’t turn him down.’’

You can’t? Why not? Players always say they feel good this time of year. It’s their nature. Roberts needed a fresher arm there, and it showed.


Dodger fans were likely puzzled by the decision to stick with Morrow, just as they were surely surprised with another strange decision in the top of the eighth after Corey Seager’s double scored a run and moved Chris Taylor to third with one out. Turner then lined to right fielder Josh Reddick and Taylor was strangely held on third base by coach Chris Woodward.

“Reddick, strong, accurate thrower was coming in on the baseball, and you still need to score that guy from second base too,’’ said Roberts. “To have a double play right there and not give yourself a chance there, that’s doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.’’

The Dodgers could have used that run, and, sure enough, the Astros came back to score again in their eighth with a Brian McCann homer.

The Dodgers weren’t done yet, coming back in the ninth with a walk by Bellinger, followed one out later by Yasiel Puig’s ninth-inning, two-run homer. Then, after Austin Barnes’ one-out double, Joc Pederson grounded out to move him to third and Taylor singled to center to tie the game and bring the Dodgers out of the dugout as if they had already won.


They had not. They did not. They would not. And now they face a battle for their lives, needing to sweep the Astros in two games at Dodger Stadium beginning Tuesday, Oct. 31.

Halloween has never before been celebrated by a game at Dodger Stadium. Halloween has rarely felt so ominous.


The Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series

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


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