CHICAGO -- Just a few days ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers appeared to be legitimate World Series contenders.
But on Saturday night, when it mattered most, they were reduced to the role of history's handmaiden. This was a team that had risen above adversity and moved forward in 2016, but here they were merely supporting actors -- bit players and extras in the drama of the Chicago Cubs reaching the Fall Classic for the first time in 71 years.
:: NLCS: Dodgers vs. Cubs coverage ::
This was, in every way, not the way the Dodgers wanted their 2016 to end. On Saturday night, at Wrigley Field, in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, they went quietly in a 5-0 loss. If it is true that the meek shall inherit the earth, based on this performance, the Dodgers are in for some serious acreage.
Left fielder Andrew Toles clanked a fly ball that he lost in the lights, helping the Cubs to a two-run lead in the first inning. In the second, after right fielder Josh Reddick reached on an error, center fielder Joc Pederson stepped to the plate as the potential tying run, but Reddick was promptly picked off first by Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks.
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw, who had performed heroically in the NL Division Series and stopped the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS, was treated like a mere mortal by the Chicagoans.
Kershaw gave up five runs, four earned, in five innings. When he was hit, he was hit hard. According to Statcast™, he allowed the Cubs to hit four balls at 105 mph or more. That's the greatest exit velocity he has ever given up in one game.
On the other side of it, Hendricks gave up a leadoff single to Toles, then did not give up another hit until there was one out in the eighth, when Reddick singled. Hendricks was removed at that point, but he had pitched the kind of game that the Dodgers had expected from Kershaw.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts described Hendricks' work as "a perfect game," and you knew exactly what he meant.
Three games ago, the Dodgers had a 2-1 series lead. But in the last three games, the Cubs played their best baseball. The Dodgers did not.
"Yeah, it's a little bit of a sour taste," Roberts said. "Obviously, if we play a clean three games in 4, 5, 6, there could have been a different outcome. And very uncharacteristic of our guys. When you make plays and pitch counts change and the next hitter that's coming up, the outs, everything changes. So, yeah, when you look back these last three games, to not play our best baseball, there's a little sour taste."
In the context of the entire season, though, Roberts saw growth with his team. The Dodgers moved up in the standings when Kershaw was out for more than two months with a herniated disk. They won a fourth straight NL West title. They also won a thrilling five-game NL Division Series over the Nationals.
"I just think that there was a lot of growth, and I think that how we came together as a team, not only the 25 guys in the clubhouse but guys that helped us get to where we're at tonight, just the way we played the game every night, with certain adversities, that our guys were accountable, made no excuses all year long," Roberts said.
"And I think with that for me, that's something that's a silver lining that really, I think going forward, the groundwork of how we play the game, I think that the result -- we were short, we came up short, but the result on how we played, there's a lot to be said for that."
In the end, he acknowledged, "The better team won the series."
The Cubs had the best record in baseball this season, and their play fully reflected that.
"They have really no weaknesses -- youth, veterans, starting pitching, they got the guy at the back end [in closer Aroldis Chapman], they catch the baseball, they can slug, they get on base and they're relentless. They took advantage of our mistakes, but that's a very good club over there, and they outplayed us this series."
It was a deeply disappointing ending to the season, but the Dodgers' overall play this season demonstrated plenty of reasons for optimism regarding their future.
But the NL present, for the first time in 71 years, is ruled by the Chicago Cubs. When the time of decision arrived on Saturday night, the Dodgers were incapable of interfering with the Cubs' long-awaited revival.