They had their chance. For one prolonged, precious moment Tuesday night, the Dodgers had complete control of this crazy race for the National League's second wild card.
The St. Louis Cardinals had just lost. The Dodgers needed only to win to push their season to the final day, to push the Cardinals to the brink, to put Clayton Kershaw on the mound for a chance at a tiebreaker playoff game.
Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers were never more alive.
And then — pitch, miss, slide, miss, swing, miss — they were done.
A Dodgers season marked by rich hope for the future ended with the team dead broke in the present, 24 consecutive years without a championship for those who are counting, and aren't we all?
The Dodgers, playing for everything, could not beat a San Francisco Giants team playing for nothing, losing,4-3, to become mathematically eliminated from postseason contention in the 161st of 162 games.
They not only lost, but they lost with the tying run on second base in the ninth inning, Mark Ellis' soft line drive landing in the glove of center fielder Angel Pagan and dropping more than 40,000 screaming fans back into their seats.
Just like that, the wild card folded.
"Everything kind of comes to a screeching halt,'' said Manager Don Mattingly quietly afterward.
Just like that, a team that underwent the most expensive summer remodeling in baseball history shuts it doors for the winter.
"You have to allow the pain to be what fuels you for the winter,'' said Mattingly. "This is what has to fuel you.''
As Mattingly rubbed his eyes in his crowded office, Dodgers Chairman Mark Walter and club President Stan Kasten sat quietly nearby. Outside in the clubhouse, there were two dozen players silently stuck to their rich leather chairs that kid who didn't want to go home. The televisions were switched off. The music was not playing. The expressions were blank.
"You walk through that room, you see huge disappointment,'' said Mattingly. "You have guys who don't care, they wouldn't be like that.''
In St. Louis, on a night they lost to the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals popped champagne. At Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers simply watched their late-season bubble burst with the sort of questionable play that has been the trademark of a hurriedly rebuilt team trying to understand each other.
Said Clayton Kershaw: "It took a little too long for us to figure it out.''
Said Matt Kemp: "We kind of failed.''
The first failure Tuesday occurred in fifth inning, when the Giants expanded a 2-1 lead to 4-1 after a managerial move that was probably first-guessed by most of Los Angeles County . With the Giants' Joaquin Arias on second base with two outs, Mattingly walked Pagan to pitch to Marco Scutaro, who is only the National League's third leading hitter since the All-Star break.
Yes, Scutaro was two-for-19 against Dodgers pitcher Jamey Wright. But few hitters in baseball are hotter, and Mattingly knew this better than anyone. In a recent game between these two teams, Scutaro beat the Dodgers with a single after — you guessed it — Mattingly walked another to pitch to him.
Yet Mattingly did it again. And Scutaro beat him again, lining a two-run double to right field to give the Giants a lead they never lost.