No knock on Springsteen tickets, but for two years running the Dodgers have been shooting for real-time glory days in the promised land of a World Series, only to be sent home for the winter by the Phillies, in a quick five games both times.
On Wednesday night, it happened with a convincing 10-4 battering in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, starter Vicente Padilla's unbeaten streak as a Dodger ending at the worst possible time -- with the series and season on the line -- as Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth slugged a pair of home runs and collected four RBIs.
While the Phillies held a rather subdued celebration in the infield after the final out, many of the Dodgers sat and watched from the dugout -- again -- seemingly in no hurry to look away.
"That's because for the second year in a row, I thought we were better," center fielder Matt Kemp said. "But they just did the right things at the right time."
Padilla, moved ahead of Clayton Kershaw for this start because he had the hot hand, was chased with no outs in the fourth inning. He had already served up early home runs to Werth (a three-run shot after walks to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard) and Pedro Feliz. He was removed after Raul Ibanez's RBI double, and the Dodgers' bullpen scrambled into emergency mode.
But it was too late. Kershaw, the announced Game 6 starter pressed into emergency relief duty, allowed a two-run homer to Shane Victorino in the sixth, Werth launched his third of the series on an 0-2 pitch from Hong-Chih Kuo in the seventh and the Dodgers could begin making vacation plans.
By the eighth inning, fans were chanting at Manny Ramirez to "Take a shower."
Andre Ethier and James Loney continued their productive postseasons with solo home runs off left-hander Cole Hamels, who beat the Dodgers twice in last year's playoffs but wasn't allowed to pitch long enough in this game to qualify for the win. Orlando Hudson emerged from exile to slug a pinch-homer, but there wasn't enough help from the top and bottom of the order, as Rafael Furcal was 3-for-21 without a run scored and Casey Blake 2-for-19 with one RBI.
Worse, the pitching staff with the best ERA in the league went missing throughout the series. The ERA for the starters in the five games was 8.86, with three of them lasting less than five innings. The bullpen wasn't much better with an ERA of 5.91. Dodgers pitchers hit five batters and walked 23, with 10 of the 28 free passes scoring.
Put the pieces together and the Dodgers were outscored in the series, 35-16. The 35 runs are the most by a team in a five-game LCS.
"Sure ... I'm surprised," manager Joe Torre said. "But again, you have to play better. We have to pitch better. You know, whether it's the starter or the reliever, that's the one thing that's going to expose you more than anything else is being able to get those outs. We have the capability, we have the talent, but that's all well and good. It's like having that good team on paper. You still have to go out there and play between the lines.
"The Phillies this year, we gave them, I think, a little harder tussle than last year, but they still were able to do what they did better than what we were able to do, you know, better."
So, the Phillies return to the World Series, their fans turned loose to party on the streets of Philadelphia.
And the Dodgers?
The team that overcame Ramirez's 50-game drug suspension to win the most regular-season games in the NL and its second consecutive NL West title, then rolled right through the favored St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series, crashed and burned in five games, again when it ran headlong into the defending champions.
The Dodgers came to Philly tied a game apiece. They then suffered a blowout, a bullpen collapse walk-off and in the finale were outslugged and outpitched.
"The experience I think from last year that [the Phillies] got certainly helped keep the game from speeding up for them," said Torre. "I can't always say that about our club this year, although we made strides, which I'm proud of, and I think the guys understand a little bit more, especially the young guys, how much work is involved."
With a new contract in hand, general manager Ned Colletti is about to get busy. With 15 free agents -- and Ramirez no lock to exercise his $20 million option to return -- the Dodgers go back to the drawing board looking for an answer to Citizens Bank Park, where they have a five-game losing streak when the World Series is in sight. They lost both games played here in last year's NLCS.
"We had an above-average season and a below-average week," said Colletti. "We're very proud of our team. But this is a tough time of the year and we have to be riveted, focused on the task. We ran into a team with more experience this time of year."
Ethier, who led the Dodgers with 31 homers but had only six against lefties, battled and beat Hamels in an eight-pitch at-bat in the first inning, fouling off four two-strike pitches before homering to right field.
Padilla retired the first two Phillies harmlessly, then lost the strike zone and pretty soon the lead. He walked Utley and Howard, fell behind Werth, 3-0, then served up a three-run blast on a 3-2 pitch.
Loney led off the second inning with his second home run of the series, both off Hamels. But Feliz sent Padilla's first pitch of the second inning into the right-field seats and the Dodgers bullpen went to work. Ramon Troncoso eventually relieved Padilla, couldn't put down the fourth inning, and George Sherrill did only after hitting Victorino with the bases loaded, the third batter Sherrill hit in 4 1/3 postseason innings after hitting only six in five years.
Kershaw worked into and out of a fifth-inning jam, but Victorino punished him after Jimmy Rollins was hit by a pitch, blasting his second homer of the series into the left-field seats.
The Dodgers scored in the eighth on a bases-loaded single by Kemp off Ryan Madson with no outs, but Loney fouled out, Russell Martin struck out and Blake bounced into a force with Jim Thome on deck.