Disappointment at Dodger Stadium…again.
At the end of the baseball season Clayton Kershaw retires to his ranch in Dallas, Texas where he rests and reflects on the previous campaign.
Last winter, Kershaw had to reflect on a season that came agonizingly close to a World Series title.
Kershaw pitched four scoreless innings of relief in a 5-1 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 7, and watched from the Dodgers dugout as the visiting team celebrated on the mound that the former MVP calls home.
Over the course of the next year, the sting of that loss did not abate. It stayed with Kershaw throughout the 2018 season. A year that featured a tough start as the Dodgers fell 10 games below .500 on May 14, only to fight and claw their way back to their sixth straight division title.
Kershaw knows the disappointment well, he's often been the guy on the mound when his team's been eliminated before, but this time the heartbreak feels like a punch in the gut.
After using the disappointment of last year as a spur all season long, Kershaw returned to the Fall Classic, with a chance to rewrite history as well as his own legacy.
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Instead, he reopened the narrative that he wilts under the pressure of the postseason, in what could have been his final game in a Dodger uniform.
"I'm disappointed. Yeah, just disappointed, I think," said Kershaw who has three days to decide if he's going to return to the Dodgers or opt-out of his contract and become a free agent. "There's only one team that can win and we know that, but it just hurts worse when you make it all the way and get second place. So having done that two years in a row now, it doesn't make it any easier."
Kershaw surrendered home runs to Steve Pearce, Mookie Betts, and J.D. Martinez as the Boston Red Sox won their ninth World Series title in team history, 5-1, over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium.
"I made a few mistakes tonight and sometimes you just wish they'd find a gap or find a single or something like that. And instead, they went over the fence tonight," said Kershaw. "That's the story of the game."
The real story of the game begins one year prior, when the Dodgers dropped a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Houston Astros on their home soil.
The Dodgers knew the only way to rebound from that Game 7 loss was to win the World Series the following year. They battled through injuries, through heart conditions, and a rollercoaster ride of a season, just for the opportunity to salve their regret.
Only they didn't seize it for the second year in a row.
"That one really hurt," closer Kenley Jansen said of the 2017 World Series loss. "It motivates you to get back here and we did. This one hurts too. At the end of the day we're still human and it's going to hurt. This loss is what will keep me going and will make me better."
The game began with a familiar script:
A first inning homer off Kershaw, and a Red Sox lead that they would not relinquish.
Steve Pearce, the World Series MVP, continued his hot hitting from Game 4, when he crushed a 91 MPH first pitch fastball from Kershaw over the wall in center field for a two-run homer in the first inning.
"You've got to strike early on that guy," Pearce said of his first inning homer of Kershaw. "You saw how he settled in in the middle innings. And, yeah, just to be able to get my pitch and not miss it, and give us an early lead, that was big for our club."
Entering the game, the Red Sox were a perfect 9-0 when scoring first in the postseason. They improved to 10-0 after the victory, tying their 2004 team as the only two teams to have a perfect record in the postseason when striking first.
David Freese gave the Dodgers life when he cut the lead in half with his second leadoff homer of the postseason.
"I knew Freese wanted to hit the ball to the right field, and he's a really good October hitter," said David Price who surrendered the homer. "He has been for every team he's been on at this stage, winning the World Series MVP, whenever they played Texas, '11 or '12, I don't know what year it was, but he swings the bat well."
Los Angeles had an opportunity to tie the game when Freese hit a flyball to right field in his second at-bat that J.D. Martinez lost in the lights. The ball bounced behind him, and Freese ended up on third with a one-out triple.
However, Justin Turner and Enrique Hernandez were unable to get him home, as they grounded out and flied out, to strand Freese on third and end the inning.
"We could’ve done more and won the championship, but it got out of our hands," said Yasiel Puig following the loss. "We practically gifted it to Boston, who is a great team. We did things we shouldn’t have done. We made bad decisions. We did bad things on the field that gave them an easier victory."
Mookie Betts added an insurance run for the Red Sox when he broke out of an 0-for-13 slump and hit his first postseason home run off a slider from Kershaw in the sixth inning.
"I tried to keep it at two [runs] as best I could," said Kershaw. "And then the homers got to me there at the end. I didn't make a whole lot of adjustments, just some bad pitches in there."
Martinez, another American League MVP candidate, followed an inning later, with a solo shot to dead-center off Kershaw, and the Red Sox prepared the champagne, as they opened up a three run lead with three innings remaining.
"I never knew there were so many Red Sox fans here," Martinez said of the reaction he received from the sea of red mixed in with the Dodger blue after his home run.
Kershaw suffered the loss for the second time in the series, surrendering four runs on seven hits with no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings.
"You have to give credit to the Red Sox," a disappointed Kershaw said after the game. "They're a great team. They won, I think, 108 games in the regular season. They beat two teams that also won a hundred games in the postseason. And then beat us four games to one."
Pearce hit his second homer of the game, and his third in the last two games to go with seven RBI, when he hit a solo shot off reliever Pedro Baez in the eighth inning.
Predictably, Pearce was handed the World Series MVP trophy after the game, and soaked in the moment on the field as fans from Fenway Park that traveled all the way to California began chanting his name and singing "Sweet Caroline."
"Best feeling in my life," said Pearce after the game. "This is what you grow up wishing that you could be a part of something like this.This has been a lifelong journey. And to be here right now is a dream come true."
As one pitcher yielded to his postseason narrative, another one rewrote it, as David Price outdueled Kershaw, allowing only Freese's leadoff homer in the game.
"David pitched a great game and I got outpitched," admitted Kershaw about his counterpart.
Pitching on three days rest from his victory in Game 2 of the series, Price once again shut down the Dodgers lineup, allowing just one run on three hits with two walks and five strikeouts in seven superb innings.
"However many times I've failed in October, however many times I failed in the regular season or against the Yankees, my confidence was never altered," said Price. "I always had belief in myself and my abilities. To be able to come through on this stage and in October for myself and for my teammates, I know I can do it now. And it's always a good feeling to have."
Price won his third straight start of the postseason on Sunday, and became the first pitcher in MLB history to beat Cy Young winners in the finale of an LCS and the World Series in the same year.
"I hold all the cards now," Price told the media after the game about his postseason narrative. "That feels so good. I can't tell you how good it feels to hold that trump card. And you guys have had it for a long time. You've played that card extremely well. But you don't have it anymore, none of you do, and that feels really good."
The 2018 Dodgers were defined by inconsistency, an inability to hit with runners in scoring position, and struggles against left-handed pitching. All three of those blemishes befell them in the World Series.
Similar to the 2017 World Series, the Dodgers held leads in three of the five games in the series, including two games they lost. Last year, the Dodgers led Games 2 and 5 against the Astros, only to relinquish leads on late-inning rallies by their rivals.
The Red Sox came-from-behind twice in the series, and relinquished only one lead, on an errant throw by Ian Kinsler, in Game 3. Other than that, they refused to go down without a fight.
You can't same the same about the Dodgers.
Los Angeles has found themselves in a 3-1 deficit in the World Series five different times in their franchise history, they have lost in five every single time.
On their journey to their fourth World Series crown in the last 15 years, the Red Sox could do no wrong.
They finished with 108 wins and the best record in baseball. They beat up on the rival Yankees in the ALDS, dethroned the champs in Houston in the ALCS, and then dispatched of the two-time NL pennant winners in five games in the World Series.
For Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, once a member of the Boston Red Sox when they broke the curse in 2004, he suffered the sting of defeat on the game's greatest stage for the second year in a row, bombarded by questions about his in-game decisions, and left to rethink them in another offseason full of regrets.
"It's not easy. It hurts. It's disappointing. All that," said Roberts after the loss. "Obviously I understand my job is to ultimately lead us to a championship, and we haven't accomplished that yet."
Somewhere in the visitor's clubhouse, soaked in champagne and beer, was Red Sox manager Alex Cora, celebrating in that exact location within the confines of Dodger Stadium for the second straight year.
After serving as a bench coach for the the Houston Astros in 2017, Cora knew what it took to win it all, and brought Boston back to the Promised Land. As a player, Cora won the championship with the Red Sox in 2007, and on Sunday became the first manager from Puerto Rico ever to win a World Series.
"As a player I was just utility guy, last year I was a bench coach. This feels better," said Cora. "Ironic enough, we win it here. So it goes full circle."
As for Los Angeles, only the 1936 and 1937 New York Giants know the sting of having lost back-to-back World Series on their home soil.
Now the Dodgers join them.
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