This year was supposed to be different.
After a franchise record 106 wins, and back-to-back World Series appearances, the Los Angeles Dodgers entered the 2019 season with a renewed focus.
This time they had Walker Buehler starting Game 1, not Game 3. They had the league MVP in Cody Bellinger, and Joe Kelly as the bridge to Kenley Jansen. This was the "best team" the Dodgers have ever assembled said their manager Dave Roberts.
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They were supposed to easily dispatch of the pesky Nats, who were a below .500 team in the first-half of the season, and supposedly playing with "house money," after escaping the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wild Card game.
This was the year the Dodgers were going to dominate the National League and finally win their first World Series in 31 years.
This was the year everything was going to be different.
Only it wasn't.
Just more despair, more heartbreak, and another opposing team celebrating at Dodger Stadium.
Former Dodger, Howie Kendrick, hit a grand slam in the top of the tenth inning, and the Los Angeles Dodgers historic season dramatically came to a disappointing end, 7-3, to the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium.
In a roller-coaster series of epic highs and lows, Game 5 exceeded them all with an instant classic of historic proportions.
The Nationals had the man they wanted on the mound. One of their two unequivocal aces, Stephen Strasburg, was getting the ball after striking out 10 batters in Game 2 of the series.
Entering Game 5, Strasburg had a career postseason ERA of 0.64, lower than even the great Sandy Koufax (0.95). That all changed with one swing in the first inning.
The game began with a bang as Joc Pederson appeared to hit a leadoff homer into the Dodgers bullpen. After Pederson rounded the bases and returned to the dugout, Nationals' left fielder Juan Soto ran to the left field umpire to explain the ball did not go over the fence, but through it.
Replay showed that the ball hit a small chain-link window in the bullpen doors, and the home run was overturned to a ground-rule double.
The disappoint hit Dodgers fans like a scorpion's sting, but it would subside in seconds, as five pitches later Max Muncy made sure there was no magic in his two-run home run that towered 390-feet over the wall in right-center.
After facing criticism for a bevy of decisions in Game 4, Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts seemingly pressed all the right buttons early in Game 5. His decision to give Enrique Hernandez his first start of the series paid dividends when the lefty-killer hit a rare home run off a right-hander in the second inning.
Hernandez hammered a 94MPH fastball from Strasburg over the wall in center field for just his 11th home run off a right-hander this season. More importantly, the Dodgers had an early 3-0 lead.
The first four games of the series featured sensational pitching performances that reminded fans of the legendary days of yore, when old-school pitchers would throw over a hundred pitches and go deep into games to give their team the opportunity to win.
Walker Buehler threw six shutout innings in Game 1. Stephen Strasburg was perfect through 4 and 3/2 innings in Game 2. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Anibal Sanchez both were impressive in Game 3, and Max Scherzer laid it all on the line over seven inspiring innings in Game 4.
Game 5 did not disappoint in that regard, both Strasburg and Buehler became the first duo of starters to each exceed 100 pitches in the 2019 postseason.
Considering the final score and the implications of the game, it's easy to forget about the work of Walker Buehler in this game. At just 25-years-old, he has ascended to the ace of the Dodgers staff, and seems to thrive when the pressure is the highest and the lights are the brightest.
Wednesday marked Buehler's third must-win start in his young postseason career. For seven superb innings, Buehler danced his way in and out of trouble like mice scurrying in and out of the light. He allowed just one run on four hits with three walks and seven strikeouts, definitively proving that when their backs are against the wall, there's only one guy to call.
The Nationals thought they had Buehler against the ropes in the sixth inning when Anthony Rendon led off with a double. Juan Soto followed with an RBI single to right field, and Washington had their first run of the game with the tying run at the plate. Buehler would get a double-play and a strikeout to escape the damage.
A scary moment occurred in the top of the seventh when Buehler hit Nationals' catcher Kurt Suzuki with a 95MPH fastball that ricocheted off his face. Suzuki stayed on the ground for a while before ultimately leaving the game.
Buehler exited to a standing ovation in the seventh inning, with runners on first and second and two outs after throwing a career-high 117 pitches. He had given the Dodgers everything he had, and literally left it all on the field.
Three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw entered the game in relief, and briefly rewrote his postseason narrative by striking out Adam Eaton on three pitches.
Unfortunately, it really was only briefly. Kershaw wrote another chapter in the Dodgers' book of postseason despair when he started the eighth inning allowing back-to-back home runs to Rendon and Soto on back-to-back pitches.
In an instant, the energy and enthusiasm was evaporated from Dodger Stadium. Despite the score being tied 3-3, it felt like the Dodgers were losing. Momentum had shifted, doubt had crept back into their pysche, and the demons returned.
Those same demons that have haunted the Dodgers for 31 years were exorcised with one swing by a man named Howie for Washington.
Kendrick had made four errors in the series, and had wilted at the plate in high-pressure moments. His play throughout the series had some fans calling him an "undercover Dodger." After he made two costly errors in Game 1 of the series, Kendrick said, "you try to suck it up and hope you make it up on the other end."
When he came to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth inning, he did. Kendrick hit a grand slam off Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly that gave the Washington Nationals an insurmountable 7-3 lead, and their first trip to the National League Championship Series in franchise history.
Another celebration ensued at Chavez Ravine with the Dodgers once again watching, dejected.