The disaster unfolds in slow motion, a train wreck, a playoff series, a once hopeful and historic 2022 season.
The Dodgers entered the bottom of the seventh Saturday night with a three-point lead over the San Diego Padres.
They ended with a two-point deficit, with poor execution, inexplicable decision-making and relentless Padres hitting paving the way for a 5-3 loss in Game 4 of the NL Division Series that saw the Dodgers end the season. Eliminated in the playoffs.
In their worst nightmare, they couldn’t concoct a more harrowing scenario.
“The shock factor is very high,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Very high disappointment. Really heartbreaking.”
The decisive seventh inning began with a walk by reliever Tommy Kahnler, then a first pitcher by Padres playoff hero Trent Grisham.
It escalated when Austin Nola got to single to second, scoring first and pushing the tie.
It took a turn for the worse when Roberts went to the bullpen, bypassing his best backup Evan Phillips for a ninth-inning save and instead called on Yency Almonte, who immediately gave up on Ha-Seong Kim. RBI doubles and RBI singles Soto against Juan tied the score.
Then, it all culminated in a moment of shock that was doomed to notoriety.
The catch signal from the dugout was missed at the start of two games against Jack Cronanworth, which was designed to give left-handed reliever Alex Vecia more time to warm up in the bullpen . Almonte fired a first ball to the plate instead.
Despite the mistake, Roberts decided to change the pitch midway through the bat. After a while, things backfired when Weiss gave up a two-point single that broke the tie and ultimately decided the game.
Losing to the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS in 2019?
It suddenly has company.
“We didn’t achieve our goals, which is the bottom line,” Roberts said. “Yeah, this hurts.”
That shouldn’t happen to this year’s Dodgers.
Not after they won a record 111 games, making them the top seed in the playoffs.
Not after they talk about this being their most talented lineup, their deepest bullpen, their most complete team of the past 10 years.
Especially after Roberts recklessly guaranteed a World Series title before the season began, saying on his radio show that the Dodgers would be champions as long as “we play a full season and have a playoff.”
A full season will be done. But the Dodgers unfortunately didn’t make it to the end.
On the day he made his championship prediction, Roberts added a warning about the need for a healthy starting pitch. However, in their fiasco at Petco Park, the bullpen surrendered them to a 3-1 loss in a best-of-five series.
The bullpen was one of the team’s few strong points in the first three games, with three relievers giving up five runs on five hits and two walks in a decisive seventh inning.
Roberts was also left to answer questions about several of the team’s decisions.
“Everything I can say doesn’t make it feel better,” Roberts said. “Obviously we didn’t expect to be in this position.”
The seven-year manager, whose tenure included the 2020 World Series, but has failed every other season in October, still tries.
While the team had insisted for weeks that it felt comfortable not specifying closer and letting the matchup dictate in-game pitching decisions, they apparently changed course on Saturday, opting to save Phillips for a potential third after they took an early lead. Nine chances.
That meant Almonte was on the mound once Kahnler got into trouble in the seventh.
It didn’t go well.
While Almonte had a strong series, he struggled in Game 4. King sent a bouncing ball past Max Muncy in the third to make it 3-2. Soto ripped an overhead dropper to make it 3-3.
Almonte did get a couple of outs as Vesia started to heat up, fanning Manny Machado before eliciting a pop from Brandon Drury on the next pitch.
But with southpaw hitter Cronenworth on the field, Roberts said the plan was to have Almonte throw to first base and then give left-hander Vesia a moment, who later said he was already warm before coming in.
Instead, the flag was missed, Almonte pitched, and Roberts was suddenly faced with a decision with no good answer: Keep Almonte for the rest of the batting, or go to Vesia even on the 1 and 0 count.
He chose the latter.
“I still love the game there,” Roberts said.
After Soto grabbed second into scoring position, Vecia threw a 2-and-2 slider out of a plate that Cronenworth roped to center, giving the Padres a lead they wouldn’t surrender.
“I got a proper warm-up and went out,” Vecia said. “Counting 2-2, slide a slider up and he’s got a good portion.”
Catcher Will Smith – whose wife Carla gave birth to their daughter earlier Saturday – admitted there was “a little misunderstanding” in the sequence with Almonte and the missed throw sign.
“Somehow the sign didn’t get there,” he said. “That’s not why we lost the game.”
That certainly didn’t help, however, after the Dodgers missed a slew of other chances earlier in the game.
Although they opened the scoring with a Freddy Freeman two-pointer in the second inning — returning to the scoring position in Game 1 to steal the team’s 20-0 slip — and thanks to Taylor Anderson’s five scoreless innings kept them in the lead, and they couldn’t quite put down the game.
They’re still only two out of nine, with the runners in scoring position. They still have nine men stranded at the base. While they went 3-0 on a sacrificial fly by Smith, it was their only run with full bases and no outs.
Overall, they have scored just seven points in the final three games of the series.
“I’m sure we also had three bad games during the regular season,” Freeman said. “Unfortunately, it happened in October.”
They were also unable to respond after the seventh inning, ending the game with six straight outs in a sudden — and fittingly — downpour.
“We have a chance,” right fielder Mookie Betts said. “We just never got hit like this.”
“It sucks, it sucks, you know what?” Chris Taylor added in a dreary post-match scene. “Every year you don’t win, it’s really hard. We always want to win, so it’s nothing new. We’ve been here before. Never felt better. It felt the same.”
The way it unfolded, however, would rank among the most shocking crashes the Dodgers have ever seen.
The bottom of the seventh inning, from poor pitching to a missed draft to a roaring scene of 45,139 fans cheering in disbelief, will sting into winter — again too early for the Dodgers.