Those early fireworks, combined with Walker Buehler’s second outstanding outing of the series, had the Dodgers just two innings away from an NLDS-clinching victory and the champagne bath that came with it. But instead, the night ended with the Dodger Stadium crowd showering the field with loud boos and streaming for an early exit.
The Nationals capitalized on the Kershaw disaster and completed the stunning comeback with a Howie Kendrick 10th-inning grand slam for a 7-3 victory, earning a date with the St. Louis Cardinals by reaching the NL Championship Series for the first time since relocating to Washington in 2005.
Even before Muncy’s early bomb, the Dodgers hardly seemed consumed by thoughts of their impending doom. Roberts, the Dodgers’ manager, told reporters that the clubhouse televisions weren’t tuned to the Cardinals’ 13-1 defeat of the Atlanta Braves in the afternoon.
“I think they pivoted from the baseball game to gymnastics,” he quipped. “I don’t think [Simone Biles] was in action today, so I’m not sure who they are watching. Maybe the flying squirrel?”
During more innocent times, third baseman Justin Turner took the podium pregame and shrugged off a question about the series’ length.
“It would have been nice to just win three in a row and not have to worry about this,” Turner said.
There was nothing much to worry about for seven innings. Buehler was sensational just as he had been in Game 1, giving up just one earned run and striking out seven while throwing 117 pitches in 6 ⅔ innings. He worked his way out of early trouble in the fifth, and he conceded his only run on a Juan Soto single in the sixth.
But Kershaw’s arrival changed all that. The 31-year-old starter had been slow to get going in a Game 2 loss, and the Nationals never gave him the chance to settle into what, theoretically, could have been a series-clinching relief appearance.
After recording one out in the bottom of the seventh, Kershaw gave up back-to-back solo homers to Anthony Rendon and Soto to open the eighth. Rendon took him out to left. One pitch later, Soto rocked him out to right-center. And then Roberts immediately, mercifully, took him out of the game.
Roberts said afterward that “if the blame falls on me, I’ve got no problem with it,” adding that he had “no problem wearing the brunt of the blame” for what he called a “very, very disappointing” season-ending loss.
“[Kershaw] is probably the best pitcher of our generation,” Roberts said. “He got us out of a big spot [in the seventh]. It just didn’t work out. There’s always going to be second-guessing when things don’t work out, but I’ll take my chances any day on Clayton.”
The pitcher wore his disbelief at another postseason nightmare on the mound and in the dugout. After Soto’s homer, Kershaw crouched down in agony before the ball had even left the park. Later, he sat alone and stared into the distance.
In a somber postgame clubhouse, the Dodgers grappled with the night’s sharp turn and their season’s abrupt finish.
“Winning 106 games and going home after one round, it sucks,” Hernandez said. “For us to be one and done, it’s tough. I don’t think anybody in this clubhouse expected us to be going home this soon.”
While it was Joe Kelly, and not Kershaw, who conceded Kendrick’s decisive homer and took the Game 5 loss officially, there was little question when L.A.’s season ended. It was those two consecutive pitches in the eighth inning that went sailing into the outfield stands, taking the Dodgers’ calm and confidence with them.
“Having a group of guys you spent your entire season with, eight straight months battling and competing,” Kershaw said. “And it ends all of a sudden, and you’re to blame for it. It’s a terrible feeling.”