ST. LOUIS -- They awed the baseball world by winning 42 of 50 games at one juncture.
With a couple of well-timed hits, they, not the Cardinals, might have won the first two games of this National League Championship Series and established control.
But after qualifying for the postseason for the fifth time in 10 years, with a player payroll far exceeding $200 million, the Dodgers again fell short of their ultimate goal. A quarter-century has passed since this crown jewel of a franchise has reached the World Series.
Clayton Kershaw, the NL's likely Cy Young Award winner, lost twice in this series. The teams batted an identical .211 (42-for-199), but the Cardinals outscored the Dodgers, 21-13, by seizing scoring opportunities the Dodgers lacked, eliminating mistakes that manager Don Mattingly's club could not and avoiding injuries that Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier did not.
Until the Cardinals' 9-0 rout in Friday's series-clinching Game 6 at Busch Stadium, the opponents appeared mostly well-matched. Ultimately, however, merely coming close was far from enough for the Dodgers, whose 11-game margin in the NL West ahead of second-place Arizona was their largest league- or division-winning margin since they moved West from Brooklyn in 1958.
"At the end of the day, one-nothing or nine-nothing -- it's still nothing," catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Kershaw expressed a similar sentiment, albeit somewhat more bitterly.
"What does it really matter, making the playoffs or coming in last place?" he said. "If you don't win the World Series, it doesn't really matter ... all this other stuff. We had some good moments this year. We put together a good streak there toward the middle. But really, unless you win the whole thing it doesn't really make a difference."
Mattingly remained upbeat. "Obviously, I'm really proud of my club," he said. "I felt like these guys hung in all year long. They were a great group to be around. I felt like these guys have a lot of fun. ... They do get down to business, sometimes a little unconventional. But they do love to play, and I think they represent the Dodger organization well."
With the wound of defeat so painfully fresh, players were in no mood to offer a big-picture analysis of the 2013 campaign.
"It's not a time to reflect on the season right now," Ellis said. "We're pretty hurt right, pretty banged up, as far as how we feel emotionally. There'll be a time to reflect a little bit later, but as cheesy as it sounds, we'll kind of grieve with our teammates right now, hang out with these guys. Whenever a season ends, no matter what, you know this entire group of guys won't be together next year, the way baseball works out. It's the last time these guys will be together in this room, and that hurts."
But Adrian Gonzalez offered a possible solution for skirting future disappointments.
"One of the key things is to try to get that home-field advantage so it doesn't happen like this, where you go on the road and lose all three games in a row," he said, referring to the Dodgers' trio of defeats here. "You can't win if you don't win on the road, especially if you don't have home-field advantage."
Praise for the Cardinals was scattered but sincere. "We felt like they were better than us this series," Mattingly said.
"First and foremost, I have to give all the respect and credit to the Cardinals and their organization," Ellis said. "They're going to be a great representative for the National League in the World Series. I'm excited to watch them play next week. They have a lot of good ballplayers over there, and they play the game the right way. Whoever's going to match up with them, it's going to be great for the game of baseball."