October strikes the Dodgers again.
The unfathomable has happened again.
The World Series is tied, and a city screams.
One strike from taking a seemingly insurmountable three-games-to-one lead against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night, Kenley Jansen blew it, Chris Taylor botched it, Will Smith muffed it, and the Dodgers completely lost it.
One moment, with the Dodgers leading by a run with runners on first and second and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Jansen was throwing a finishing two-out, two-strike pitch to .150-hitting scrub Brett Phillips.
The next moment Phillips was lining the ball into right-center field, scoring both Rays baserunners after Taylor fumbled the ball and catcher Smith muffed the relay and Jansen failed to back up the play.
One moment, it was potential elation for a team on the brink of a championship. The next moment, that team was staring at its demons.
One moment the Dodgers were on the verge of a memorable 7-6 victory. The next moment they were absorbing an unthinkable 8-7 loss.
Said manager Dave Roberts: “It’s a tough one.”
Said the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier: “The baseball gods were on our side.”
While the Rays’ Randy Arozarena pounded home plate after scoring the winning run, Phillips ran around the field with his arms outstretched as if flying.
While most of the Dodgers trudged into the dugout, Jansen stood on the field staring around as if to ask, “What just happened?”
What happened was, the World Series is now tied at two games apiece with Game 5 on Sunday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
What also happened was, the Dodgers lost a game they should have won with an embattled closer who should not have been allowed to close.
“You can’t let this one beat us,” said Jansen. “We’ve been here before.”
That’s the problem. For 32 years, they’ve been here, continually failing in the fall, no championship since 1988, so far nothing to show for eight consecutive division titles.
It will be the true test of this new Dodgers mettle if they can overcome this latest debacle in time to save a series they should win.
“Got to stay positive; we’re going to come back tomorrow, we know we’re good, and we’re going to come back and win the game tomorrow,” said Jansen.
On the mound Sunday will be Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ future Hall of Famer whose horrific personal postseason history has been symbolic of the team’s October troubles.
He’s pitched in most of the Dodgers’ worst playoff losses during the previous seven years. This is his chance to finally pitch in the game that rescues them from that familiar pit.
“I haven’t let myself think that far yet,” said Kershaw before Saturday’s game.
Ah, but of course he’s thinking about it.
“I think when you’ve been working so long and so hard for one goal and it’s getting closer and closer with each win, it’s hard not to think about the end game and what that might be like.”
It seemed like Kershaw would be pitching a coronation after the eighth inning of a maddening Saturday night when Corey Seager appeared to end a seesaw battle with a two-out flare to shallow left field, scoring a streaking Taylor from second and breaking a 6-all tie.
The Rays had earlier come back to take the lead in the sixth, then the Dodgers regained the lead in the seventh, then the Rays tied it again in the bottom of the seventh.
Yeah, the game was that nuts, and it got even nuttier in the ninth when Jansen allowed a one-out broken bat single to Kiermaier and a two-out walk to Arozarena to bring up Phillips.
A flailing swing and a flare later and the game was over. The hit was going to score one run, but two? Arozarena actually fell between third and home and was not going to score if Smith doesn’t lose the ball. The sturdy Dodgers defense stunningly fumbled. Jansen again couldn’t finish.
“I mean, gave up two hits on soft contact, can’t beat yourself up on that,” said Jansen. “I totally broke Kiermaier’s bat, and then Phillips, you know, he threw out a grenade single. Can’t beat yourself there.”
Soft contact, hard contact — in the bottom of the ninth with a championship on the line, it’s all contact.
No wonder Roberts ended the game hanging back in the dugout and staring into space.
“We were one strike away and there was a flare there, and I’m thinking through the 10th inning,” said Roberts. “Then it kind of spun out right there. So I wasn’t really prepared for a walk-off in that situation.”
Nobody was. Now the Dodgers need to prepare to forget about it.
“Like we said all along, we know it’s not going to be easy, we know how difficult this is,” said Justin Turner. “We have to learn from tonight, make our adjustments we need to make and come back and try to win a game tomorrow.”
This sounds like a broken record in October, but Roberts needs to once again make adjustments on how he handles his bullpen. This game went nuts beginning in the bottom of the sixth when, with the Dodgers leading 4-2, the vulnerable part of that bullpen collapsed.
Blake Treinen had surprisingly replaced an effective starter Julio Urías an inning earlier after Urías had thrown just 80 pitches. Treinen started the sixth by allowing a single to Arozarena and walked Ji-Man Choi.
One out later, in came Pedro Báez, and there went the ball, Brandon Lowe teeing off on a home run to left-center to give the Rays a 5-4 lead.
The Dodgers came back to regain the lead in the seventh on a Joc Pederson two-run single, but the Rays weren’t done, coming back in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game on a one-out homer by Kiermaier off Báez, and really, at that point, what was Báez still doing in the game?
We repeat, what was Báez still doing in the game? Why was Urías ever taken out of the game? And why wasn’t Brusdar Graterol, who finished the eighth by working out of a jam, allowed to start the ninth?
Much later, by the time the Dodgers trudged off the field with the loss, those were just some of the many questions facing a team that suddenly went from the brink of a title to the depths of their history.
A city weary of waiting is going to have to keep waiting.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.