ATLANTA — The Dodgers did not pursue a championship this season as much as they seemed determined to remove the concept that anyone else could win it.
They had the baseball equivalent of “The Godfather” cast in capturing their first title since 1988 last year, then added the cast of “Ocean’s 11” for kicks. They made anything George Steinbrenner attempted in his heyday play like just a starter kit for overkill.
Best rotation in the majors? Not enough. The Dodgers added NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer on an overstuffed three-year contract, ignoring warning signs about the pitcher’s character either out of arrogance or a single mindedness, akin to that of Javert from “Les Miserables,” to build what could not be stopped. At the trade deadline they did not trade for Max Scherzer or Trea Turner. They acquired both; the best pitcher and hitter dealt in July.
Their payroll swelled to $60 million more than any other team spent in 2021. Other clubs worried about paying the luxury tax. The Dodgers obsessed on a repeat, damn the cost.
But they did not repeat. They became the latest example of just how hard it is to do so, even if you stack your lineup, rotation and the deck.
“It is hard,” Dodger Chris Taylor said. “But that is what we signed up for.”
Over six months, the Giants were shockingly better than the Dodgers in the NL West. And over six games in October, so were the Braves. The Dodgers, withered physically by injury and seemingly mentally by the burden of expectation, were outplayed by Atlanta, who had a group from its chorus — notably Eddie Rosario, A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek — outshine the stars.
The team with so much starting pitching just didn’t have enough in the end. Dustin May missed most of the year after Tommy John surgery, Bauer missed half a year after being put on administrative leave tied to sexual assault allegations. Scherzer described an arm that went dead after being used in a relief outing. He could not go on regular rest Saturday. That forced Walker Buehler to have to pitch on short rest for the second time in 10 days after never doing so previously, with the hope Scherzer could take the ball in a Game 7 Sunday.
But in a fateful three-batter span in the fourth inning with two outs, Buehler walked Travis d’Arnaud, allowed a double to pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza and then a three-run homer to Rosario to break a 1-1 tie.
That was the blow that keyed the Braves’ 4-2 triumph that sent them to their first World Series since 1999. Atlanta was swept in that Fall Classic by the Yankees, who were in the middle of a three-peat. And the Braves did the Yankees a double favor — they kept those dynastic Yankees as the last team to repeat and perhaps reminded those critical of the current Yankees just how difficult it is to win titles.
“It is exponentially harder,” Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts said of going back-to-back. “Everywhere we go it is, ‘Beat L.A., Beat L.A.’ It is hard to be on top.”
The Dodgers now carry, as the West Coast Yankees, the weight of win or bust. But they have just one championship since 1988. That came last year in the bizarre shortened season. The Dodgers were attempting to validate that title by winning another one, trying to put the capstone on their own dynasty. Instead, they are taking on the role of those Braves teams that twice lost in the World Series to the Yankees.
Those fantastic squads won 14 straight NL East titles. But just the one World Series in 1995. These Dodgers captured eight straight division titles before finishing second and earning a wild card this year despite 106 victories.
They survived four sudden-death games: the wild card vs. St. Louis, two in the Division Series vs. San Francisco and NLCS Game 5. Atlanta had blown a three-games-to-one advantage in the NLCS last year to the Dodgers. There was unease for the Braves.
But Rosario broke a 1-1 tie and the lefty relief trio of Minter, Matzek and Will Smith combined to go 15 up, 15 down with 10 strikeouts to help the Braves garner their sixth NL pennant since moving to Atlanta 55 years ago. They will face the Astros in the World Series, beginning with Game 1 in Houston on Tuesday night.
The Dodgers? “We are at a little bit of a crossroads,” Buehler said. “We have a lot of free agents.” That is Kershaw, Scherzer, Taylor, Kenley Jansen and Corey Seager. Who knows if Bauer ever plays again?
The Dodgers have remade themselves quite a bit in this nine-year playoff run. They have lots of money to spend, plenty of stars remaining and tons of brainpower. But what they won’t have is a repeat; that distinction toward dynasty.
They went all in and — short of the finish line and despite the single-minded obsession — here in the third week of October, the Dodgers were out.
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