It would be folly to suggest that the ghosts of playoffs past returned to haunt the Los Angeles Dodgers as Game 4 of the World Series lurched to a stunning conclusion Saturday night.
And it’s easy to nod along with the Dodgers and note that they played well, made one bad pitch and two egregious misplays at the end and that it is the resilient and talented and opportunistic Tampa Bay Rays who beat them, and not some cosmic chain that connects their playoff gut-punches of 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 — all the way back to 2013.
Sure, this Series-turning, one-strike-away, 7-6 walk-off loss to the Rays that squared the Fall Classic at two games apiece was just baseball, brilliant and heart-stopping baseball that took a turn for the unprecedented at the end, as it so often does.
And then you consider that the game ended when Dodgers catcher Will Smith tried to slap a tag on a man who wasn’t there.
It is a gruesome and galling way to go down, Kenley Jansen getting walked off in the playoffs once again, a broken-bat dying quail keying the Rays’ rally to stay alive, a rare misplay from the Dodgers’ highly versatile and always valuable Chris Taylor, who booted Brett Phillips’ RBI single that should have only tied the game 6-6.
In the dugout, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts — whose maneuverings largely blew up on this night — was already pondering what’s ahead: On-deck batter Austin Meadows, followed by extra-innings, followed by a Dodger victory and a chance for Clayton Kershaw to clinch a championship Sunday.
“We were one strike away,” Roberts said of his mental state that spilled out in a reaction deftly captured by a Fox Sports camera. “There was a flare there and Meadows is coming up and I’m thinking to the 10th inning.
“It just kind of spun out. I wasn’t really prepared for a walk-off in that situation.”
Nor was Smith prepared for anything but a swipe tag on the great Arozarena, who Jansen wisely pitched around and who steamed hard from first on Phillips’ bloop single and broke for home, victory in his eyes.
Yet Arozarena, unbeknownst to Smith, stumbled halfway home, proving to those watching his record-setting power binge in these playoffs that he’s fallible, and providing the Dodgers a trap door to escape this inning.
Smith, as far as we know, never saw Arozarena stumble; he was not made available to news media after the game.