Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig walks back to the dugout after hitting… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
In a year of the improbable, the impossible may have to wait.
On the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's home run Tuesday night, the only fists pumps belonged to the St. Louis Cardinals, and the only brake lights applied were to the Dodgers' journey to the World Series.
In front of another rollicking Dodger Stadium crowd that didn't want to believe what it just saw, the silver anniversary celebration of the organization's most memorable postseason moment only mocked the memory.
Where the Dodgers once won a World Series opener on this night, this time they lost a likely precursor to a season-ender by falling behind three games to one after a 4-2 defeat to the Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
Tom Lasorda threw out the first pitch, Gibson's ninth-inning homer to beat the Oakland Athletics was the first scoreboard video, and for more than three hours, a full house waved their blue flags and partied like it was 1988.
In many ways, the drama that surrounded the Dodgers' last World Series championship returned. But as Yasiel Puig's vacant stare into an empty field for many long minutes after hitting into a ninth-inning double play would indicate, Tuesday's ending was so very different.
"You're going to be a little bit down," admitted Manager Don Mattingly afterward outside a silent Dodgers clubhouse. "Felt like we needed a win."
He felt it, they all felt it, and now everyone in that solemn clubhouse is really going to feel it. There have been six times the Dodgers have trailed 3-1 in a seven-game series. Not once have they recovered to win the series.
"It is was it is," said A.J. Ellis, matter-of-factly. "We know where we're at."
Simple. Suffocating. Beginning on Wednesday afternoon here in Game 5, they must attempt to rewrite history less than 24 hours after losing a terrible duel with it.
Twenty-five years ago on Tuesday, a pain-staggered Dodgers star became a hero, and something like that could have happened again. But Hanley Ramirez could only endure six innings with his broken rib before being mercifully removed from the game. It was agonizing to watch him swing, something he finally gave up completely when he struck out looking on three pitches in the fifth.
"I couldn't take the pain anymore," Ramirez said simply.
Twenty-five years ago, that injured hero's home run was set up with brilliant baserunning by a Dodgers sub named Mike Davis, and something like that could have happened again. But on this night, after reaching second base with one out in the seventh inning and the Dodgers trailing by two, Nick Punto was stunningly picked off.
With the crowd sitting in shocked silence, he picked himself up, ran off the field, and disappeared into the dugout tunnel as if in shock. Afterward, his eyes were still glazed as he stood in front of his locker and faced the sort of questions the veteran has never faced during a season in which his savvy play help put the Dodgers in the playoffs.
"It was just a bad baseball play, a little too aggressive there," he said. "It was a big play, it put us in a bad spot."
He knew that kid pitcher Carlos Martinez had a tendency to bounce his curveballs. He saw neither the second baseman nor shortstop anywhere in the area. He took a giant lead with the idea that he was going to steal a base and be standing on third with one out, in perfect position to score on a fly ball by Carl Crawford.
The Cardinals, however, out-thought him. Pete Kozma sneaked up behind him from deep in the shortstop position, and, amid 50,000 gasps, Martinez spun and nailed him. The Dodgers never advanced another runner as far as second base.
"That was a lonely place to be, a lonely jog off the field," said Punto. "I don't wish that on anybody."
Twenty-five years ago, the last runs of the games were scored on a home run, and in this case, it actually did happen again. Except the home run was hit in the seventh inning by a 5-foot-9, 165-pound Cardinals pinch-hitter named Shane Robinson, the first pinch homer of his career.
And instead of going into the right-field pavilion, the ball bounced off the top of the left-field fence just beyond the reach of a surprised Crawford. And where Gibson's ball was never found, this one was shortly thrown by a fan on the field.
"I thought I was going to catch it, but that ball kept going," said Crawford. "It just floated out of here."
So, too, are the Dodgers' chances floating away despite holding the Cardinals to eight runs and a .148 average in four games. But during that time, the Dodgers have only scored seven runs and batted .223, including scoring just twice Tuesday against a very hittable Lance Lynn.
They need Ramirez, and despite his best effort of the last two nights, they don't have him. They need Andre Ethier, but, also despite his best efforts, they barely have him because of the microfracture in his left ankle. He had two singles and scored after a walk on Tuesday, but he hobbled everywhere, and his night was epitomized when he could offer no resistance on a tag play by second baseman Matt Carpenter on the Puig grounder which started the ninth-inning double play.
It would be nice to think these Dodgers were at least able to play Tuesday night without noticing the specter of Kirk Gibson and 1988. It would also be wrong.
"We hear it every day from somewhere or another," said Clayton Kershaw earlier this month when asked about 1988. "We hear it every day."
Barring history, the Dodgers will have to spend at least another year listening.