LOS ANGELES -- There were many a scenario that manager Dave Roberts scripted out in the hours leading up to Game 7. There was one, however, that he preferred.
Had Wednesday night gone as planned, with Yu Darvish giving the Dodgers a decent start and the offense building a lead, Roberts knew to whom he would turn late. The final nine outs were to belong to his ace starter and shutdown closer.
It turned out that Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen gave Roberts more, with the two combining for five scoreless innings. However, circumstances didn't offer Roberts the luxury of holding either back until the end. Instead, their stingy relief work, while it did prevent the Astros from adding to their early five-run lead, finished mostly as a footnote in a 5-1 loss that left the Dodgers a victory short of a World Series championship.
"We had a pretty good plan from the onset of what we wanted to do," Kershaw said afterward. "Our bullpen was ready to go. We were all ready to go. It's unfortunate that it got kind of out of hand pretty quick there."
The impact Kershaw would have in the winner-take-all game emerged as a leading storyline as soon as Roberts was able to avoid using him in Game 6. Kershaw said he'd go 27 innings. Realistically, the Dodgers hoped merely for a few. But coming back from a 94-pitch no-decision in Game 5, Kershaw was effective and efficient enough to be pushed for four.
"I felt fine," Kershaw said after his fifth career postseason relief appearance. "I could have pitched two innings. I could have pitched seven innings. I got going quick, which is probably a good thing for me. I didn't have to think about it too much. I just got to go out there and pitch."
With the outing, Kershaw became the third pitcher since 1960 to throw four or more innings of relief in a World Series Game 7. San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner had done so most recently to help the Giants secure their 2014 title.
Individual feats, however, seemed far from Kershaw's mind as he tried to unpack the abrupt end to such a special season.
"It's just too hard to think about what the Astros are getting to do right now," said Kershaw, who allowed 14 earned runs over 33 2/3 innings this postseason. "The Astros are an amazing team, and they deserve to win, no doubt. But I think there are so many things that, one pitch here, one pitch there could have could have the changed the outcome of different games. Every game was so close outside of this one. Yeah, it's human nature to go back and think about things you could have done differently."
In that reflection, Kershaw will likely come back to his own Game 5 performance. Before the extra-inning contest ultimately swung Houston's way, he stood on the mound with separate four- and three-run leads. Kershaw lost them both in a 4 2/3-inning performance that stood in contrast to the dominance with which Kershaw had opened this World Series.
It also left the Dodgers returning home knowing they'd have to reel off two straight wins.
That didn't happen, and thus a postseason that opened with Kershaw fielding questions about past October stumbles closed with him addressing teammates before everyone dispersed for the winter.
"I told the guys tonight that I was just thankful to be a part of this team, thankful for just their commitment and work," Kershaw said. "It's just a great group of guys that right now we're just trying to -- without being too emotional -- just embrace each other and understand that we're all feeling the same burden.
"This month felt like 27 years. Just every game, every pitch was just so intense. You go through this much effort to win that many games against this many good teams, I hope we get to get to this point again."
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.