Purging the ghosts of Dodger postseasons past
By Jon Weisman
This is exorcism time.
Though it has been nearly 28 years since the Dodgers last reached the World Series, they have come tantalizingly close — closer than you might realize. The list of turning points — any one of which might have redirected the Dodgers from a title — doesn’t merely boggle the mind. It jengas the mind. It gnip-gnops the mind.
In all, there have been four National League Division Series (1996, 2006, 2014, 2015) and three National League Championship Series (2008, 2009, 2013) that might have gone the Dodgers’ way if not for a single play. There are 17 such plays captured below, and that’s not even an all-inclusive list.
Perhaps by confronting this chamber of horrors at once, we can spiritually move the Dodgers forward …
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October 2-3, 1996: NLDS Games 1 and 2: After being swept by the Reds a year earlier in their first postseason series since 1988, the Dodgers began the 1996 National League Division Series with two games at home against Atlanta. They lost, each time, on a solo, tiebreaking home run: Javy Lopez off Antonio Osuna in the 10th inning of Game 1, Jermaine Dye off Ismael Valdez in the seventh inning of Game 2.
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October 4, 2006: NLDS Game 1: The Dodgers were soundly thumped (except for Jose Lima’s shutout) by St. Louis in the 2004 NLDS, but things began promisingly against the Mets two years later, especially when Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew singled to start the second inning of the postseason at Shea Stadium. And then, this happened:
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October 9, 2008: NLCS Game 1: Fresh off their first playoff series victory in 20 years, the Dodgers were looking to steal their playoff opener on the road against Cole Hamels and the Phillies. Derek Lowe was cruising with a 2-0 lead when Rafael Furcal threw away Shane Victorino’s grounder to start the bottom of the sixth. The next batter — Chase Utley — homered to tie the game. One out later, Pat Burrell homered, and just like that, Philadelphia had enough for a 3-2 victory.
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October 13, 2008: NLCS Game 4: Having survived a mortifying two losses in Philadelphia, the Dodgers were poised to even the NLCS, leading 5-3 in the eighth. Then Dodger Stadium was stunned by a pair of two-run homers — one by Victorino off Cory Wade, the other by Matt Stairs off Jonathan Broxton — to drop Los Angeles one game away from elimination.
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October 19, 2009: NLCS Game 4: This time, the Dodgers were two strikes away from squaring the NLCS at two games apiece, leading 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Stairs opened the door for a Phillies comeback with a walk, and after Carlos Ruiz was hit by a pitch, Jimmy Rollins hit the backbreaker.
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October 11, 2013: NLCS Game 1: The Dodgers lost Game 1 to the Cardinals in 13 innings, on a night hardly lacking for brutal moments — but one of them was literally painful. In the very first inning, Hanley Ramirez — the Dodgers’ hottest hitter — was hit by a Joe Kelly pitch. Ramirez, trying to soldier on with what was diagnosed to be a fractured rib, would go 2 for 15 in the series, in which the Dodgers lost the first three games by a total of four runs.
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October 12, 2013: NLCS Game 2: On the bright side after the bitter Game 1 defeat, the Dodgers had Clayton Kershaw on the mound, coming off a dominant performance in the NLDS. But the Dodgers would lose, 1-0, when after hitting a double to start the bottom of the fifth, David Freese went to third on a passed ball and scored on a shallow Jon Jay sacrifice fly.
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October 3, 2014: NLDS Game 1: There could be an entire post just on this bitterly contested series. Pick your poison: Matt Carpenter’s three-run Game 1 double off Clayton Kershaw in the Cardinals eight-run seventh inning …
October 4, 2014: NLDS Game 3: … Kolten Wong’s tiebreaking Game 3 homer in the seventh inning off fellow southpaw Scott Elbert …
October 7, 2014: NLDS Game 4: or Matt Adams’ three-run Game 4 homer off Kershaw in the seventh inning that wiped out a 2-0 Dodger lead.
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October 15, 2015: NLDS Game 5: The Dodgers lost the first and third games of their most recent NLDS, but won the second and fourth, bringing the series back to Los Angeles for a deciding fifth game. Arguably, the key for the Dodgers was not being able to knock out Mets starter Jacob de Grom when they had the chance, after hitting a hard lineout and four straight singles for two runs to start the bottom of the first. But more specifically, there were two plays by Daniel Murphy that changed the game: 1) stealing third when a Dodger shift left the base uncovered following a walk (followed by Murphy scoring on a Travis d’Arnaud sacrifice fly in foul territory), 2) Murphy’s tiebreaking homer in the sixth off Zack Greinke.
As it has been for most of the past 28 years, the Dodgers just could not catch a break when they needed one. Time to change that.