LOS ANGELES -- All would have been forgiven and forgotten for Yu Darvish had his Game 7 start been everything that his Game 3 one wasn't. But a chance at redemption instead morphed into a repeat performance that left the Dodgers to wonder how their best-laid plans had all gone so wrong.
Darvish was to be one of the keys to this postseason run that came to a halting end with Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Astros in the World Series. He was why a Dodgers team already running away with the National League's best record executed a trade for the soon-to-be free agent in the final minutes before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Darvish was the additional piece, Los Angeles hoped, that would help make the club indomitable in October.
"I know he wanted the baseball," manager Dave Roberts said. "I know he was prepared. I just can't explain the results. I really can't."
A pitcher who had never lasted fewer than three innings in a Major League start did so twice within a six-day span. It left the Dodgers scrambling for innings coverage behind Darvish and dug deficits too deep for a team that had won a Major League-best 104 games during the regular season.
"This pain," Darvish said, "is going to stay in me for a while."
Darvish lasted five outs into Game 7, just as he had in his World Series debut. His night opened with a George Springer double and shut with a Springer home run. By the end of Darvish's 47-pitch outing, the Astros enjoyed a five-run advantage.
"When you're going to face a high-end pitcher, and even though we beat him up a little bit twice this Series, it is not going to take away how good he is," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "You have to be very disciplined, and we did that two games in a row where we got hittable pitches and did damage."
The result left Roberts vulnerable for second-guessing. Should he have instead started Alex Wood, who had held the Astros to one run over 5 2/3 innings in Game 4? Or what about Clayton Kershaw, who ended up throwing four scoreless innings in relief? Neither of those guys was on full rest, however, while Darvish was.
"Yu has been one of our top three starters all year or since we acquired him," Roberts said. "You don't know what you're going to get in either one of those two guys, and to think they're going to start the game, I think it's unfair to Yu. ... I felt good with Yu starting the game."
Houston didn't hit Darvish as hard as it did the first time around, but its offense was plenty opportunistic. Furthermore, Carlos Beltran -- who played with Darvish in Texas in 2016 -- intimated on FOX's postgame show that he was tipping his pitches, and that he had fed info to his teammates that helped them at the plate. Back in July, Darvish admitted he was tipping his pitches by pausing slightly when he threw his fastball, and he blamed some of his struggles to that point in the season on that.
Darvish needed 24 pitches to get through the first, an inning that concluded with a 13-pitch at-bat by Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, who doffed his helmet to Darvish in apparent acknowledgement of the inappropriate gesture Gurriel made in the dugout after homering off the righty in Game 3. As the inning deepened, Kershaw began stretching in the Dodgers' bullpen.
"From the last outing, I learned and I tried to make adjustments going toward today's outing," said Darvish, who, for the second consecutive start, generated just one swing and miss. "The last outing, my breaking ball, especially slider, wasn't that good or sharp. So I was trying to make adjustments between outings. And today, I was able to throw it for strikes, but it didn't get to the level that I wanted it to be, which is dominating."
Wobbling confidence in his slider directly impacted things for Darvish the following inning when, with one on and two outs, Springer stepped in for his second at-bat. Catcher Austin Barnes called for a 3-2 slider. Darvish shook him off. He wanted to go fastball instead.
Springer hammered it a projected 438 feet, per Statcast™, to end Darvish's night.
In total, Darvish surrendered nine runs (eight earned) in 3 1/3 World Series innings. That 21.60 ERA is the second highest for a pitcher with at least three innings pitched in a World Series, and Darvish joined the Yankees' Art Ditmar (1960) as the only pitchers to have two starts of fewer than two innings in a single Fall Classic. Darvish is eligible for free agency and will likely test the open market, meaning this could be his last appearance for Los Angeles.
"Most of the time, to anybody, it could happen, like the bad days and the good days," Darvish said. "I had a bad day. That means somebody had a great day. I try to think of it that way, and sometimes it works. Maybe this time it didn't work because I let my teammates down."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.