"The season ended and I'm a big part of the reason why," Kershaw said. "It doesn't matter how I pitched. It's bad deja vu all over again."
With the Dodgers' bullpen in shambles, Kershaw returned on three days' rest for the second time in his career and went MVP on the Cardinals for six innings, allowing only one hit. But Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta opened the fateful seventh with well-placed singles up the middle that nicked the gloves of infielders Dee Gordon and Hanley Ramirez.
Then Kershaw -- the certain NL Cy Young winner and probable NL MVP -- hung an 0-1 curveball to Adams, who lined it into the St. Louis bullpen to give the Cardinals their seventh home run of the series, five of them by left-handed hitters off left-handed pitchers. It was the first homer by a left-handed hitter off Kershaw this year.
"Saw it pop up out of his hand and knew it was going to be a good one to swing at," said Adams.
After 102 pitches, that was the end for Kershaw and the Dodgers, the bullpen never even getting a chance to protect the lead. Kershaw dejectedly left the mound, head down, Busch Stadium deafening, when rookie Pedro Baez replaced him. The Dodgers are now 1-10 in postseason games played in St. Louis and 13-22 in elimination games.
"Two grounders went through, then the home run," said Kershaw. "It happened that fast. Sometimes, hits can happen. Obviously, Adams is one that can't happen. It seems like one inning every time."
The Dodgers reached the NL Championship Series last year, so this early exit is a step backward for a club with a $230 million payroll and an ownership group that envisions a dynasty of championships. The Dodgers either led or were tied entering the seventh inning in all four games.
As for the owners, Mark Walter and Stan Kasten congratulated the Cardinals in their clubhouse before addressing the Dodgers in theirs. Manager Don Mattingly congratulated the Cardinals in the postgame news conference.
Back in the Dodgers clubhouse, the players packed for an unhappy flight west.
"It's awful. Devastating," said catcher A.J. Ellis, who went from a .191 hitter during the season to a .538 hitter in the playoffs, but finished the year in front of his locker, head in hands, before answering questions. "It just brings up last year. Familiar setting, rehashes our old nemesis as well. We're close, but still not there."
Mattingly was asked about sending Kershaw back out for the seventh inning after making 94 pitches, apparently by a questioner unaware of the bullpen's recent implosions. Kershaw struck out the side in the sixth inning and had nine strikeouts.
"It goes back to the same question, is there anybody better, even on short rest, and even where he was at that point?" Mattingly said. "I mean, Holliday hits the ball barely out of reach of Dee, Peralta hits the ball and it hits off Hanley's glove, and then had a curveball there. So at the end of the day, I think it's not really a situation that you try to change too much or manipulate too much."
Kershaw, who has won four consecutive ERA titles and just had a 21-3 season, is now 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA in 11 career postseason games (eight of them starts). He's the first Dodgers pitcher to lose four consecutive postseason games. This one followed his eight-run disaster in Game 1 this year, which followed his seven-run disaster in Game 6 of last year's NL Championship Series. He insisted afterward that he wasn't fatigued.
This also was the second time this series that Kershaw couldn't protect a lead. The Dodgers scored both runs in the top of the sixth inning when they chased St. Louis starter Shelby Miller. One run scored on Matt Kemp's double-play grounder, the other on Juan Uribe's RBI single.
"They just have a good team, man," Kemp said. "They get the big hit when they need it. Everything worked in their favor. Any time you lose in the playoffs you know your season is over and it's tough to swallow. We just came up short. They were the better team."
The Dodgers' offense, limited to one run in Game 3, was shuffled by Mattingly, who benched center fielder Yasiel Puig and replaced him with Andre Ethier, because Puig had struck out in eight of his previous nine at-bats and Ethier had homered earlier this year off Miller. Ethier went 0-for-2 with two walks and a strikeout.
The Dodgers put the tying run on first with one out in the ninth when Ellis worked a walk off closer Trevor Rosenthal. Puig pinch-ran for Ellis and Justin Turner pinch-hit for reliever Brandon League. Rosenthal fell behind, 2-0, got the count to 3-2 and struck out Turner. Gordon slashed a single to left to bring up Carl Crawford, who grounded out to second to end the season.
The sixth inning opened with singles by Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez off Miller, putting runners on the corners with no outs. Kemp bounced into a double play as Crawford scored the first run. The Dodgers weren't done, as Ramirez was nicked by a pitch and Ethier worked a walk.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny brought in Seth Maness, who was greeted by Uribe's RBI single to right, with Ethier taking third. On a pitch low and away to Ellis, catcher Yadier Molina whirled as the ball took a kind hop nearby, Ethier broke toward home and stopped, and Molina threw to third. Ethier went back standing up, umpire Jerry Meals ruled him safe, but the call was overturned on a challenge by Matheny and the inning was over.
"I didn't have a real good that dugout is kind of down in a little bit of a hole," Mattingly said. "But [third-base coach Lorenzo] Bundy, from his viewpoint it looks like the ball is getting away. And A.J. [at-bat] said the same thing. It's like it hit something and popped up. I think Andre saw the same thing, thought that ball was getting farther away and it was like a hit and popped. Again, I haven't seen a replay. I don't know. Our perspective is almost underground, so it's tough to see that stuff."