Manager Don Mattingly said he wants his players to remember the feeling they were left with after losing to the Giants, 4-3, and being eliminated from the final National League Wild Card berth with one game left in the regular season.
"This will soak in and you have to allow this pain to be what focuses you for the winter," Mattingly told the media, with a background audience that included owners Mark Walter and Stan Kasten.
The Dodgers had the help they needed from the Cincinnati Reds, who beat St. Louis earlier. Had they won this game to run their win streak to seven, they had Kershaw lined up for Wednesday's regular-season finale. A Dodgers win and Cardinals loss on Wednesday would have forced a Thursday playoff between the teams at Dodger Stadium. Instead, on Thursday the Dodgers begin the offseason.
"Everybody's main goal is to make the playoffs ... we kind of failed," said Matt Kemp, who pointed out 27 one-run losses that could have been turned around with a clutch hit here and there.
"This will kind of stick with me awhile. I just didn't do my job. My fault."
Even when playing with a shoulder damaged by crashing into the Coors Field wall?
"At this point, everybody is banged up. Can't make excuses," he said. "If you went out there, you've got to get the job done. No excuses."
The Dodgers mounted one last gasp in the bottom of the ninth, Andre Ethier leading off with a single against left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt. A.J. Ellis, after failing to bunt, struck out. Pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu flied out. Pinch-runner Dee Gordon stole second, but Mark Ellis ended the game with a flyout to center.
"I still don't think I have words to put together those thoughts yet," said Ethier, struggling to explain his emotions. "I feel a little clouded from this game and the end result."
Buster Posey and Joaquin Arias homered early for the Giants off Dodgers starter Chris Capuano, who pitched despite bruising the back of his pitching shoulder in an on-deck mishap with the weighted donut on his bat last week. Capuano (12-12) said the shoulder didn't bother him Tuesday, but he was removed after only three-plus innings, his shortest start in two years.
"You know you are in an all-or-nothing game right now," Capuano said. "I knew that Donnie was managing like it was the seventh game of the World Series for us. I knew there wasn't much margin for error."
Then the Giants added to their 2-1 lead in the fifth inning when Mattingly chose, with two outs and a runner on second, to have Jamey Wright intentionally walk Angel Pagan to pitch to torrid Marco Scutaro. Scutaro's clutch two-run double underscored that he was a more valuable midseason acquisition than any of the marquee names the Dodgers picked up.
"Pretty simple, really," Mattingly said of the decision. "He's 2-for-19 off Jamey before that. I know he's been a good hitter over there [.452 during a 19-game hitting streak]. That's one of those moves, when it doesn't work people question it. But I'd pretty much make it all the time."
That decision loomed even larger because of A.J. Ellis' 13th homer of the year, a towering two-run blast that culminated a classic nine-pitch at-bat against former Dodgers pitcher Guillermo Mota, who had just relieved starter Barry Zito, and cut the lead to a run.
"This one hurts," said A.J. Ellis. "It's not just this one game that hurts. All the games hurt when you start thinking about the tough losses and games you gave away throughout the course of the year. It was so much fun this last week playing, what we can be. Unfortunately, we just didn't do it long enough."
One out later, Mark Ellis tried to stretch a double into a triple and was thrown out at third. That cost the Dodgers the tying run, as Shane Victorino followed with a triple into the right-field corner.
"I hit the ball good and saw [center fielder Pagan] took a bad angle at it and had a long way to go to pick it up," Mark Ellis said. "I saw it die at the wall and thought I could make it to third. It was the wrong play and they made two good throws and got me out at third. Shane comes up and gets a hit, you never know if that would have happened, but we'd like to take our chances with me still at second base."
Kemp was next with first base open and Giants manager Bruce Bochy brought in George Kontos to strike out Kemp with Adrian Gonzalez and his 14-game hitting streak on deck.
"That was the most adrenaline I've ever had on a baseball field. It was definitely my biggest moment in professional baseball," said Kontos. "Just go after him like there weren't 40,000 people yelling at me. I was pretty geeked up, then I saw him and that fired me up a little bit more."