The excruciating conclusion of the Dodgers’ glorious season

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers during Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

I love the Dodgers. And right now, I hate being a Dodger fan.

If you relate to that statement, read no further. You understand the Santa Ana windstorm of emotions that October brings if the Dodgers play well enough in the summer to advance into fall baseball. And the Dodgers have played really well in a lot of summers lately, earning their spot in the playoffs 10 seasons in a row. That’s an incredible run.

Even more incredible is what the Dodgers did in their 162-game season this year. For most teams, winning 90 games in a season is a big success; winning 100 games is a rare feat that qualifies as a truly special season.

And what did the Dodgers do in 2022? They won 111 games, a record for the 139-year-old franchise. They routinely beat their opponents by wide margins. They had the best pitching in all of baseball, by far, and they scored more runs than any other team, also by far.

If there ever was a case for canceling the playoffs and awarding a championship because one team was so clearly better than all the others, our 2022 Los Angeles Dodgers would be it. For the love of St. Vincent Scully, they won 22 more games than the second-place team in their division, which just isn’t done.

And that gets at the source of our angst as fans, the reason why so much of LA is collectively freaking out right now, lurching between paroxysms of elation and disappointment. The Dodgers’ success over a grinding six-month season risks being tossed aside if they lose a best-of-five series to that second-place team, the San Diego Padres. It’s akin to winning a 26.2-mile marathon by an hour, then having to beat the runners-up at a 100-meter sprint to be declared champion.

Of course, heartbreak is built into baseball fandom. The season last six months, games are played almost every day, and suddenly everything stops for all but a few teams. Those that do well enough earn the right to play extra games, and this year the Dodgers did extremely well. So we expect the season to end with something besides disappointment before lapsing into hibernation for the winter. It’s a catharsis that only winning a World Series can provide.

And right now, all those emotions built up over six months are coming to a head with the Dodgers mired in San Diego. It’s why some children might suddenly find their typically nurturing parents distant and unpredictable (they’ll understand one day, I hope), or why certain good sons start declining Mom’s calls after the first pitch. We’re beside ourselves right now — I mean, they’re beside themselves, that critical mass of Angelenos.

It didn’t always feel this way, with Dodger fandom so tightly wrapped up with winning. I don’t remember much winning in those childhood days that turned me into a lifelong Dodgers fan (something that boggles the minds of my two oldest children, who have seen the Dodgers play in the World Series three of their 10 years alive). What I do remember was infinitely more participation — as in, going to Dodger Stadium regularly and watching more games on broadcast TV free of charge.

That was before the Dodgers were, for lack of a better term, put behind a paywall. Starting in 2013, when the Dodgers began their incredible 10-year playoff run, games have been televised almost exclusively on paid cable — no more over-the-air broadcasts for the masses. Dodger Stadium tickets have also become less accessible, costing roughly $50 on average in 2022. In the 1980s and ’90s, I could afford a few seats with birthday money.

This has, I think, changed LA’s relationship with the Dodgers. We’re still endlessly devoted, but that devotion is emotionally rewarded with winning. It’s less of a pastime — where the point was to take in as many games as possible — and more of an obsession.

Or at least it feels that way. Go Dodgers, and sorry kids.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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